The first Sacramento firefighter to speak publicly about his involvement in sexual trysts in a Hollywood Park fire station said he exposed the affairs to Fire Department brass after his captain called a meeting to deny rumors, the firefighter's attorney said.
Robby Cowen, 26, apologized to firefighters and the public Tuesday night, saying he hopes his decision to come forward with the truth will soften his punishment. He received a termination letter Monday. He plans to appeal it next Monday.
"I do not regret coming forward with the truth and revealing information that could have easily been swept under the carpet," Cowen said in his attorney's Folsom office. "I did not, however, expect to be terminated after coming forward with the truth."
Allegations of four firefighters having group sex in Station 12 were made public on Jan. 24. Since then, Cowen's attorney, Joseph Rose, said city officials have aired their opinions in the news media while firefighters were ordered to remain silent.
Tuesday's statement was an effort to reveal Cowen's role, Rose said.
"The city has been saying (firefighters) were dishonest and deceiving, that they rooted out the truth through their sleuth work," Rose said. "That's not true. The reason it came out was Robby talked about it. It was obviously not an easy decision."
City leaders appear to be sending the message that a whistle-blower still loses in the end, Rose said.
City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond was incredulous at Rose's statement.
"When you do something wrong, how does confessing absolve you of that?" she said.
Sacramento Fire Chief Julius "Joe" Cherry declined to comment Tuesday.
Sacramento firefighters have been under investigation since the revelation of firefighters attending a porn star costume ball at the Radisson Hotel in July.
Other on-duty indiscretions subsequently came to light, ranging from a firefighter seeking a porn star's autograph at Goldie's Adult Superstore, to another joy-riding in a firetruck with two women on his lap.
Since then, 24 firefighters have been disciplined and two have been terminated. Five firefighters whose firings had been announced Oct. 12 were later allowed to keep their jobs, evoking public outrage.
"In my opinion, they jumped to (Cowen's) termination because there's a public fervor because of the (Porn Star Costume Ball) that has bled over to this case," Rose said.
On Monday, three firefighters accused of group sex in Station 12, Capt. Thomas De Bartoli and firefighters Doug Boan and Cowen, were sent letters of termination. A fourth, Krista Duval, resigned. All have been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 21.
Rose said Cowen was confronted about the sex before he admitted it to Battalion Chief Dave Frausto. He was called into a meeting with his captain, also an accused participant in the group sex, Rose said. Cowen was asked a leading question about the sex and said it did not happen, Rose said.
Within two days, he felt "remorseful" and went into the battalion chief's office.
"He said, 'I need to tell you the truth,' " Rose said. "Frausto told him, 'Robby, you did the right thing.' "
Cowen said he does not regret coming forward about the group sex; he believes he can continue to serve. "There was no harm to the public at any time," he said.
Cowen said his father was a deputy fire chief in Los Angeles and came to Sacramento to pin on his badge when he was sworn in. He said he has spoken to his father about the scandal.
"I made a mistake," said Cowen, who has served in the department for 4 1/2 years. "But my family loves and supports me. I'll always have that."
Rose said his client's exemplary record should also grant him some disciplinary relief.
Four men who were accused of drinking on duty were given their jobs back with "last chance" contracts promising termination if further shenanigans arise.
City Councilman Robbie Waters said it's "a matter of opinion what is the most egregious." And ultimately, the decision will be out of City Council members' hands.
"It isn't up to us (the council). The city charter won't let us touch these cases," Waters said.
Monday's termination letters kick off a process in which the firefighters meet with their attorneys or union representatives for a hearing with a deputy fire chief. That hearing decides the appropriate level of discipline. The decision can be appealed to an arbitration hearing and that decision can be appealed in court.
City Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy said she has faith in the process.
"Chief Cherry is in charge, and I feel a great deal of respect and admiration for him. We need to let the chief do his job," she said.
About the writer:
- The Bee's Christina Jewett can be reached at (916) 321-1201 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bee staff writer Terri Hardy contributed to this report.