SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Two state firefighters were fired Wednesday and another has resigned after an ethics investigation that stemmed from the killing of a battalion chief's girlfriend.
Thirteen other California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employees face discipline including suspensions, demotions or reductions in pay, department spokeswoman Janet Upton told The Associated Press.
Fifteen of the 16 were instructors at the department's fire academy in Ione, 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.
The $2 million investigation began in May after academy instructor Orville Fleming was charged with murder in the death of 26-year-old Sarah June Douglas, a former escort who became his girlfriend.
Fleming's estranged wife told Sacramento County sheriff's investigators and reporters that she had watched a video showing the victim having sex with her husband and other firefighters on fire trucks. Investigators never found a video and discredited the report.
However, the resulting California Highway Patrol investigation uncovered problems including unauthorized use of a state vehicle; dishonesty; cheating while an employee was competing for a promotion; and improper conduct while instructors were on state time but after they were done teaching for the day.
"It's kind of ancillary to the original scope of the investigation, but it's things we couldn't overlook," Upton said. "We weren't going to sweep them under the rug. We felt they warranted the action we have taken."
Mike Lopez, president of the union representing department firefighters, said he hadn't been given details on the allegations.
"They are just that, allegations at this point. There are a couple of hearings where allegations can be proven false," he said.
The employees can appeal their discipline within the department and to the State Personnel Board. Two of the 16 firefighters involved are managers, and the rest are rank-and-file employees who could seek the union's help.
All 16 were put on paid administrative leave last month, just as a new academy class began training for the coming fire season. One has since resigned and the others have been reassigned and no longer are at the academy.
Upton said she could not disclose their names, specific offenses or other details without jeopardizing their due process rights.
"The CHP investigation brought to light the actions of a few individuals that violate the public trust. We are pursuing the disciplinary process to the furthest extent allowed. This type of behavior will not be tolerated," CalFire director Ken Pimlott said in a statement.
Although the highway patrol conducted the investigation, CalFire must pay for it from its annual budget.
Upton said the original sexual misconduct allegations were so serious that the department had no choice but to seek an outside investigation.
Fleming was arrested following a two-week manhunt after Douglas' body was discovered in the home they shared. Fleming has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge and is scheduled to appear in court in March.
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