An employee has resigned from Petaluma’s fire department and others are set to be disciplined after an investigation prompted by an anonymous letter that detailed alleged sexual misconduct involving fire personnel at the agency’s downtown headquarters.
The unsigned letter, which was sent to the city manager and the fire chief in late December, alleges that a six-month long spate of “gross misconduct” took place at Petaluma Fire Department Station 1 on D Street. The letter states that young personnel brought in a Petaluma woman in her early 20s during the late night and early morning hours for strip teases and sex acts, some of which occurred on or in fire apparatus.
It alleges that photos taken and disseminated among staff depict the woman in “various states of undress,” in the station, sometimes clad solely in Petaluma Fire Department gear. The woman also allegedly stated that the “red light is on” at her Petaluma home, according to the letter.
City Manager John Brown and Fire Chief Leonard Thompson declined to confirm if their investigation determined sex acts took place at the station.
Brown said there was no information to show that lap dances, strip teases or other “group activity” had taken place.
City Attorney Eric Danly said he advised the city manager against providing further information until a post-investigation report could be completed by staff. Danly said he believed the report would be finalized and submitted “soon.”
Citing personnel confidentiality statues, Brown, Thompson and Danly declined to provide details about the employee who left the city, including a name, reasons provided for the departure, length of service, or rank. According to the city’s departmental reports, a firefighter/paramedic resigned from the city in January.
There were “multiple” incidents of policy violations, such as unauthorized after-hours access to the station, Brown said, though he declined to specify how many.
Thompson disputed many of the claims in the letter, saying that “90 percent” of it is “wrong.” He would not provide any clarity about what was correct other than to say that “one egregious thing was found.”
Brown said that, the day after he received the letter, he sat down with the fire chief to map out a strategy for an investigation into the merits of the allegations. Two battalion chiefs conducted the investigation over the course of several weeks, when they interviewed about 30 employees at fire stations 1 and 2, Thompson said.
The city’s legal and human resources team helped fire personnel in the initial investigation, and staff from those departments reviewed the preliminary results to follow up with individuals and potentially take additional action, Brown said. The process was completed before the end of January.
“What we turned up in the course of all this was that there was an individual who was involved with the young woman at the facility,” Brown said. “I’m not certain that we came up with any actual evidence showing that they had been on or in city equipment, but there was clearly inappropriate behavior. I don’t really want to elaborate on that other than to indicate that there was behavior going on that was in violation of the department policies about having people in, access to equipment and vehicles or uniforms. … The individual involved no longer works for the city at this point and I guess that’s as far as I want to go.”