The mother of two boys who died following a house fire in Michigan earlier this year is pushing for an independent investigation after two firefighters were accused of lying about properly searching for survivors.
Zyaire Mitchell, 12, and his brother Lamar, 9, died soon after a fire at their home in Flint on May 28.
Several weeks later, an investigation led by the fire department found two firefighters tasked with the initial search of the room the children were in lied about properly sweeping for victims. Almost seven minutes later, the children were found by other firefighters. Both later died at a hospital from smoke inhalation, their mother said. State fire investigators ruled faulty electrical wiring caused the fire.
In his July report, Flint Fire Department Chief Raymond Barton determined the two firefighters — Daniel Sniegocki and Michael Zlotek — should be terminated from the department, “due to the nature of the incident in question, and the actions or lack of action possibly contributing to the loss of life of two victims.”
But instead, the city accepted the resignation of one of the firefighters and a second was “disciplined,” Barton said in August, without elaborating on what disciplinary actions were taken. On Friday, the city provided CNN with a copy of a letter sent to Zlotek dated July 28 detailing his two-week suspension.
Barton refused to comment further on the investigation or its outcomes when contacted by CNN on Saturday.
Attorney Robert Kenner, who is representing the boys’ mother, said he thinks there is an indication of racial bias in the way the investigation has been handled because the children were Black.
“I can’t say in good faith that these firemen intentionally failed at their responsibility because these boys were African Americans, I would never say that,” Kenner said. “I think the way it was handled subsequent to the boys being found was a disparity in how others have been treated.”
Speaking at a press conference Friday, the boys’ mother, Crystal Cooper, said, “Only if I could just give six minutes, my babies would still be here with me. I just want justice for them. They didn’t deserve this. Every day is a struggle knowing that I won’t see them anymore.”
Kenner accused the city of a coverup and on Friday called for another investigation.
“There was an investigation by a Chief Raymond Barton and, what he found, was that two firemen — Daniel Sniegocki and Michael Zlotek — fabricated and lied on a report and said that they checked the room,” Kenner said. “Based on what they said, the chief did his own investigation and what was uncovered was they couldn’t have checked the room, they didn’t even mention anything about a bed, the location of the bed, the location of items.”
“No parent should ever have to go through this,” the attorney added. “No parent. So, what we’re calling for, we’re calling for a thorough investigation, an earnest investigation, no cover-ups, no change in documents. We’re calling for the truth.”
Kenner on Saturday told CNN the decision not to terminate the firefighters came from the office of Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley.
A representative of Flint Firefighters Local 352 told The Flint Journal that the two firefighters are being scapegoated in the matter because they failed to search a small room on the second floor of the home due to extreme heat and low visibility.
CNN has reached out to the union for comment.
“The mayor is in a hotly contested race right now and made the decision not to terminate based on political reasons,” Kenner claimed. “He’s tied to the fire union and didn’t want to upset the union or other constituents.”
Neeley is facing former Mayor Karen Weaver in the election on Tuesday.
Neeley, the mayor, told CNN, “There is absolutely no truth to the allegation that there is a cover up.”
“We continue to lift this family in prayer, and we are sad to see their pain shamefully exploited,” he added.
CNN has attempted to contact Zlotek and Daniel Sniegocki for comment.
CNN’s Isa Kaufman-Geballe contributed to this report.