Detroit fire commissioner terminates photographer after blowing the whistle

Fire Commissioner Eric Jones. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Tune into the Muckraker Report on 910AM the Superstation for more details about this quickly evolving story. 

The Detroit Fire Department’s official photographer was fired Thursday after he told investigators he was not called, as required, to document a suspicious crash involving a deputy police chief.

Fire Commissioner Eric Jones, who has grown increasingly paranoid over leaks and an internal affairs investigation, ordered the immediate termination of Dennis Walus, who has provided free photo services to the department for investigative and public relations purposes.

Wallace’s termination, which raises serious questions about retaliation, will impact the fire department’s ability to investigate arsons, fatal crashes and accidents involving fire personnel, according to fire officials who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Shinske.

Jones made the decision just moments after his deputy fire chief, Robert Shinske, claimed in a radio interview on the “Muckraker Report” on 910AM the Superstation that the department had no official photographer, which wasn’t true. The Detroit Police Department internal affairs department is investigating Shinske after Motor City Muckraker revealed that he and top fire administration officials failed to follow department protocols after he claimed he crashed his fire vehicle into his house in Dearborn about two months after he was suspended for five days for driving his department-issued vehicle to a bar in Dearborn.

Although Wallace was unpaid, he was considered the department’s official photographer and was routinely called to take photos of suspicious house fires, fatal car accidents and crashes involving fire personnel.

Wallace and firefighters were shocked and saddened by the termination.

“I am proud to have been affiliated with the Detroit Fire Department as 608 (DFD Photographer) since 2015,” Wallace said in a statement. “I have witnessed documented bravery unmatched in any Fire/EMS department in the world. I pray for their safety on each run, they are Detroit’s bravest heroes, the city’s 1st line of defense.”

Shinske’s suspension in October came after citizen journalist Alex Haggart posted photos of the deputy chief’s vehicle at a Dearborn bar, where surveillance video appears to show him staggering. Shinske was given a five-day suspension. Later that month, arson investigators raided Haggart’s home in St. Clair Shores and seized his electronics as part of an investigation that has yielded no results. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office quickly declined the fire department’s request to file unknown charges against Haggart, saying the allegations against the frequent contributor of Motor City Muckraker were insufficient. 

The fire department has refused Haggart’s request to return the items, which include electronic tables for his children.

The bold, swift firing of Wallace raises serious questions about the leadership of Jones, who was appointed by Mayor Duggan and was sued seven times during his career as a Detroit police officer over civil rights allegations that range from excessive force to false imprisonment.

According to several fire officials, Jones has come undone in recent weeks, shouting at staff and becoming increasingly paranoid about whistleblowers.

Duggan’s office has not commented on Jones’ leadership or the increasing turmoil in the department.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.