A white Kansas City, Missouri, firefighter is facing multiple charges after police say he called a 3-year-old black boy a racial slur and spit on him during an incident at a Hooters restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas, on February 26.
Terrence J. Skeen, 42, was charged March 7 in Overland Park Municipal Court, the Overland Park Police Department said in a press release. Officers had investigated the case and turned over evidence to prosecutors for charges. The incident drew national headlines after the boy’s family and witnesses spoke out about it.
Skeen, who goes by the name Jeremy Skeen, could not be reached for comment by Heavy and it is not clear if he has hired an attorney. The Kansas City Fire Department reinstated Skeen after his arrest, his attorney told the Kansas City Star on April 17. Details of any potential discipline have not been released. Skeen’s lawyer, Tom Bath, told the newspaper his client’s side, “will all come out at the trial,” and said that he has pleaded not guilty and was returned to his job after being “suspended incorrectly.”
The boy’s grandfather said learning the suspect is a firefighter made things worse. The grandfather also told the Star that Skeen threatened to shoot the boy.
“Sick to my stomach,” the grandfather told KCTV. “But you know what? You have to pray for people like that. This society needs to come together. When it’s a child, it’s not right.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Skeen Told the Family ‘Get That Little (N-Word) Off the Floor,’ Spat on the 3-Year-Old Child & Then Was Heard Telling Police, ‘It’s OK, I’m a Fireman,’ Witnesses Say
A witness told KCTV that a man, now identified as Terrence Jeremy Skeen, was involved in an altercation with a family at the Overland Park Hooters about 8:15 on Monday, February 26. The witness said that he saw a 3-year-old child wander away from his family, who were at the Hooters for a birthday party. When a family member came to get the child, the witness said another customer, who police have identified as Skeen, used a racial slur and then spat at the boy.
“He basically said get that little ‘blank’ up off the floor,” the witness told KCTV. “The ‘n-word’ started to get thrown around.”
The witness told the news station he thought there would be a physical altercation, but instead police were called. The witness said that when police arrived to interview the man, he told them he was a first responder.
“I didn’t catch what the officer said to him, but his immediate response was ‘It’s OK. I’m a fireman’ — like that was supposed to blanket cover everything for him,” the witness told KCTV.
Police said in a press release that officers responded to the 10600 block of Metcalf “regarding a report of battery upon a child. Witnesses at the scene reported that the child was called a racial slur and spat on. A police officer took the information and later made contact with the victim and family members, who had left the restaurant after the incident before police arrived.”
The boy’s grandfather, who spoke without revealing his identity because of fears of retaliation, told the news station that the family was there for a party with about 20 to 30 guests.
“My whole body just went numb,” he said about the incident. “How could someone do that to a child? He’s a baby. He’s helpless. He didn’t deserve that.”
2. He Has Been Charged With Disorderly Conduct, Battery and Assault & Faces Up to 8 Months in Jail if Convicted
Skeen has been charged with one count of battery, a single count of disorderly conduct and a single count of assault in Overland Park Municipal Court, authorities said in a press release. All of the charges are misdemeanors.
According to Kansas law, disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one month in jail and a fine of up to $500. It is the least serious level of misdemeanor in the state.
It is not clear if Skeen has been taken into custody on the charges.
3. Skeen, Who Has Worked for the KC Fire Department Since 2002, Wrote on Facebook He Would Unfriend Anyone Who Makes ‘Inappropriate Comments About Someone’s Race, Religions, Sexual Orientation or Beliefs’
Terrence Jeremy Skeen has worked for the fire department in Kansas City, Missouri, since 2002, a spokesman for the city told the Kansas City Star. He took one year off for personal reasons in 2010, the spokesman told the newspaper. According to Skeen’s Facebook page, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2010, before moving back to Missouri.
Skeen’s Facebook page also shows that he has worked as a paramedic for the Kansas City Fire Department. In 2013, he talked to KCTV about being a paramedic on a fire truck as part of a program that sent medics on small pumper trucks to some emergencies before ambulances.
“We have much more trucks in the city than we do ambulances. Therefore, a fire truck tends to get on the scene a lot faster than an ambulance does,” Skeen told the news station. He said he had been working as a paramedic for seven years. “We rush to treat the patient, and when the ambulance gets on the scene, we deliver the patient to the ambulance who will transport to the hospital.”
Skeen has also lived in Pompano Beach, Florida, and Raytown, Oak Grove and Blue Springs, Missouri, according to his Facebook profile and public records.
He has written on Facebook recently about personal issues, but did not go into detail.
In December 2017, he wrote on Facebook, “There’s a certain point in your life that you have to write off people that you love and care about, to better yourself. One can only put forth so much effort to make things work but when it’s strictly one sided, it’s time to realize that there are better people in this world. All I can do at this point is wish you the best of luck and happiness.”
In May 2017, he wrote, “Despite one of the worst months I’ve had in a very long time, I have to thank my very close friends and family for being there to help me through the tough times. Each and every one of you means the world to me. Thank you for your support and encouragement!”
Skeen posted on Facebook in 2016 about being tired of politics. He also spoke out against friends who make comments about others.
“When you make inappropriate comments about someone’s race, religions, sexual orientation, or beliefs (joking or not), you get removed from my friends list. Yes, you are entitled to your opinions…. I just don’t care to hear them!” he wrote in February 2016.
He also wrote in February 2016, “I’ll be so glad when the elections are over! #tiredofpolitics.”
4. The Case Has Been Referred to the FBI for Possible Further Charges
Jeremy Skeen was scheduled to appear in court in Overland Park on April 3 at 1 p.m., authorities said in a statement. The Overland Park Police Department said in the statement that the case has been referred to federal authorities for possible additional charges. It is not clear if the case could rise to the level of a hate crime.
“This matter has been referred to the FBI for any further investigation they determine is necessary,” the local police department said. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the case.
5. Hooters Issued a Statement After the Incident Saying the Restaurant ‘Does Not Tolerate Harassment or Discriminatory Language’
Hooters issued a statement about the incident after it drew headlines around the country.
“Hooters does not tolerate any harassment or discriminatory language, the safety and well-being of our guests and employees are our utmost priorities,” the statement from Hooters of America said. “Of course it goes without saying that our policy is to fully cooperate with any law enforcement investigation.”
The city of Kansas City, Missouri, told the Kansas City Star that it cannot comment on individual personnel or discipline issues. The statement did say that the city, “values diversity and expects all employees to treat others with respect.”
The city’s full statement can be seen below:
While we cannot comment on individual personnel or discipline issues, the City of Kansas City strongly values diversity and expects all employees to treat others with respect. As we build a workplace where everyone is valued, the city provides diversity and harassment training every 2-3 years.
The most recent round of training started in November 2017, and 84% of Fire Department employees have currently completed the training course.
This training is required of all full-time, part-time, seasonal and contract employees. New employees go through this same training course as part of their orientation.
Meanwhile, the city of Overland Park issued a statement to correct rumors that Skeen worked for the fire department in that city.
“Due to some inaccurate reports regarding the employment of Mr. Skeen, it should be noted that he is not, and has never been, an employee of the City of Overland Park or its Fire Department,” Sean Reilly, Overland Park Communications Manager, said in the statement.