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Detroit CFO Suspended Over ‘Insensitive’ Trayvon Martin Reference

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A poster of Trayvon Martin is held during a press conference to call for justice in his Feb. 26 killing. (Credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

A poster of Trayvon Martin is held during a press conference to call for justice in his Feb. 26 killing. (Credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Detroit’s chief financial officer has apologized for a comment he made about “someone in a hoodie” that a city employee said was racially insensitive.

Jim Bonsall, who was hired to help the city turn around its finances amid the largest public bankruptcy filing in U.S. history,  on Thursday apologized in a statement issued by the office of state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, saying that he didn’t intend to offend anyone.

Orr’s office says Bonsall has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of an investigation.

“I apologize and am sorry for having offended co-workers over comments I made during a recent meeting,” Bonsall said in the statement released Thursday. “Regardless of the outcome of the internal investigation or whether I keep my job as a result of it, it was never my intention to offend anyone.”

The city’s recently demoted finance director, Cheryl Johnson, said in a letter to Orr that Bonsall created a hostile work environment, especially for minority women, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News reported. Bonsall is white and Johnson is black.

At a meeting about the city’s annual Angels’ Night anti-arson patrols planned for a three-day period around Halloween, Bonsall asked if he could “shoot someone in a hoodie,” according to Johnson’s letter sent this month.

The mention of a hoodie could be taken as a reference to black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hooded sweatshirt when he was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was acquitted in the case.

According to the letter, Johnson said Bonsall “demonstrated a pattern of behavior that has created a hostile work environment.” She said she believed she was demoted in retaliation for her complaints about Bonsall’s treatment of employees.

“I felt these comments, in addition to others made by Jim Bonsall, were extremely offensive hostile and abusive,” the letter said. “I felt he has intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon me and other members of the administration.”

Bonsall started work this summer, around the time the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

“The emergency manager takes these allegations very seriously; they are troubling if true,” Orr’s spokesman Bill Nowling said.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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