For firefighter, sense of brotherhood shattered
Before he was Big Dog in the fire station, he was Big Fella because of his giant frame and Bigfoot because of his size 15 boots. Before there was the dog food in his spaghetti, there was the noose draped over his station locker and the white flour sprinkled in his bed.
And before Tennie Pierce became the Los Angeles Fire Department's $2.7-million man - a symbol of racial discrimination to some and political correctness gone wrong to others - he was an ordinary firefighter, who had spent 17 years pledging allegiance to the department's notion of brotherhood.
That allegiance began unraveling two years ago, when a firefighter at Pierce's Westchester station mixed dog food into his dinner - a practical joke intended to "humble" him, the department's investigative report said, for "declaring himself Big Dog" in a volleyball game.
Pierce sued the city for racial harassment last year, after enduring what he describes as months of taunts and retaliation. The City Council voted to settle his case for $2.7 million last month, but, after a public uproar, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa vetoed the settlement.
Pierce's claim and its repercussions - a respected fire department unmasked; a popular fire chief dispatched; a racially divided populace at odds - unhinged the city and unmoored the man.