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New fire agency scandal

Four Sacramento firefighters have been suspended for participating in a series of sexual encounters with each other while on duty, Sacramento Fire Chief Julius "Joe" Cherry said Monday.

The four, who were placed on paid administrative leave Monday, are the subjects of an internal investigation for what Cherry described as "on-duty consensual sexual misconduct" during their 24-hour work shifts at Station 12 in Hollywood Park.

The three separate incidents at the fire station involved a male captain, two male firefighters and a female firefighter. One of the men would stand lookout while the other three engaged in sex acts, fire officials said.

"It's another embarrassing moment for the city's Fire Department and the city, and I'm very, very disappointed," Mayor Heather Fargo said Monday. "But they (fire officials) have committed to me that they are very focused on getting the Fire Department cleaned up. This is another example of why they need to stay focused."

Twenty-four firefighters in the department have been disciplined since an investigation into firefighter misconduct began after six on-duty firefighters attended a Porn Star Costume Ball at the Radisson Hotel on July 2. The investigation began when a woman said she was sexually assaulted in a fire truck by firefighters who attended the event.

Two of the three incidents of sexual misconduct now under investigation at Station 12 occurred after the Porn Star ball, said Cherry, who took over as chief weeks before the event.

Cherry would not release the names of the four firefighters placed on leave Monday, citing "personnel" restrictions. He said he expected to have the investigation completed in 30 days.

Fire officials said they don't believe alcohol to be a factor.

The chief, who has pledged to improve the department's image, said he learned about the latest incidents Friday when the battalion chief, whose responsibilities include supervising Station 12 and its eight firefighters for 24-hour shifts, reported a rumor of the sexual misconduct.

"I do believe the other investigations helped bring this forward," Cherry said. "We've broken the code of silence."

The four firefighters, three of whom are married, were on duty Friday when they were brought in to Sacramento fire headquarters on Freeport Boulevard, where they were interviewed by retired Sacramento Police Detective Sharon McClatchy, who is leading the investigation.

"From what I know, they all have clean records," Cherry said of the four firefighters. He did not know what type of discipline might be meted out. "People have to have their day in court, and I'm not going to prejudice their cases."

The Fire Department's rules and regulations do not specify that sexual activity is not allowed at fire stations. However, the rules state: "Be governed by the ordinary and reasonable rules of behavior observed by law-abiding and self-respecting citizens. No member shall commit any act tending to bring discredit upon the Department or its members."

So far the investigation has not uncovered any instance in which the sexual misconduct interfered with the station's response to emergencies, fire officials said.

The four firefighters from Station 12 were not involved in the earlier investigation sparked by the Porn Star event.

About two years ago, the female firefighter from Station 12 alleged that a married male captain had groped her in the kitchen at Oak Park's Station 6. That captain was demoted to engineer. He is still fighting the demotion through the civil service process, Cherry said.

"Obviously the problem at the Fire Department is much deeper than we realized, but it will be fixed," said Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, whose district is covered by Station 12 and Station 6. "There is a group of people who don't understand or care what proper behavior is. We should root all of them out."

The Porn Star incident brought a widespread investigation into drinking on duty, giving women joy rides in city vehicles and attending porn star autograph-signing events.

The investigation led to the discipline of 24 firefighters. Of the nine originally slated for termination, one captain received his final termination letter Friday, another captain is appealing his termination at the city level, two firefighters resigned and five signed "last chance" contracts with the city after receiving notice they would be terminated.

The District Attorney's Office did not file charges against firefighters in the Porn Star incident. The woman who said she was assaulted has filed a claim against the city, naming former firefighter Thomas Mitchell and firefighter Scott Singleton, alleging she was the victim of multiple sexual acts on the engine parked outside the Radisson.

Wendy York, the attorney for the woman and Carol Irving, a female firefighter who has accused the department of sexual harassment, said the series of incidents demonstrates how widespread the department's internal problems are. She added that when the department agreed to bring back five firefighters, they watered down the discipline process.

"The message they sent to their department is that they don't take sex and alcohol seriously," York said.

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