OAKLAND — A fire captain claims he was denied a promotion because of his son’s arson conviction in Napa County, alleging in a lawsuit Chief Darin White told him it was because of “what is going on with your son.”
Howard Holt, a 27-year Oakland fire veteran, was in the running for acting assistant fire marshal in the fire prevention bureau — a division that faced increased scrutiny following the Ghost Ship warehouse fire amid revelations the building was never inspected before 36 people died in a blaze there.
Holt, 58, alleges the job was his until superiors learned of his son’s conviction and even offered it back if he would drop his work grievances. Holt refused, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Oakland, its fire department and Chief White filed Thursday.
“It’s a sad and unfortunate series of events,” said Holt’s attorney, Theida Salazar. He should not have to “endure something like that. I wish it hadn’t happened.”
A request for comment sent to White and city spokeswoman Karen Boyd was referred to the City Attorney’s Office, which did not respond.
White took over for former Chief Teresa Deloach Reed, who led the department during the Dec. 2, 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Under Reed, Oakland’s fire prevention bureau did not have a full-time fire marshal for nearly two years until she hired Miguel Trujillo in 2015 and it was later reported the department failed to inspect hundreds of buildings flagged as dangerous.
In December 2017, Acting Assistant Fire Marshal Maria Sabatini retired, and the second in line for the position, Capt. Lawrence Hom, turned down the job, according to the lawsuit. Holt, who joined Oakland fire in 1991 and was promoted to captain in 2003, was third in line. Such a position, per department policy, was based on seniority and qualifications.
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According to the lawsuit, Battalion Chief Erik Logan offered Holt the job on Dec. 15, 2017, but called back on Jan. 2, 2018, to rescind the offer, saying it was because of “what is going on with your son.”
Weeks earlier, on Dec. 8, Holt’s son, Kasey Cardell Holt, was sentenced to 12 years and 8 months in prison for setting fire to the Napa Valley College gymnasium and his coach’s apartment complex in 2015. The younger Holt, then 24, set the fires after a dispute with his college basketball coach, according to reports.
On Jan. 15, 2017, Holt says he confronted Chief White at a charity basketball tournament at Merritt College.
“Do you even know what happened, he was framed,” Holt said he told White, according to the suit. “I wish you would have talked to me and got the facts before making a decision like that.”
White allegedly said he could not work in fire prevention because of “what’s going on with your son.”
“I know how it is,” White said, referring to one of his relatives who allegedly spent time in prison, according to the suit.
Holt, in his suit, said the fire department changed its hiring practices and discriminated and retaliated against him.