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Woman files lawsuit alleging sexual assault by firefighters

A photographer at the 2004 Porn Star Costume Ball thought she would be safe with two Sacramento firefighters who she said later sexually assaulted her on a fire engine, according to a lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 2 against the city, the Fire Department and two firefighters, alleges negligent hiring, training and supervision, violation of civil rights and infliction of emotional distress. The woman, identified only as "Jane Doe" in the suit, says she also was a victim of defamation when someone observing the alleged assault said, "Firefighters have all the luck." One of the firefighters replied, "Yeah we do."

"This is like the firehouse gone wild," said Wendy York, the woman's attorney.

The Sacramento County District Attorney's Office declined to file charges against the firefighters named in the suit, Thomas C. Mitchell and Scott Singleton, citing insufficient evidence.

"There is no reasonable likelihood a jury would find that any sexual contact ... was a product of force, implied or direct," according to a July 2004 press release from the District Attorney's Office.

York said the 25-year-old woman has 50 pieces of physical evidence verifying her account, including saliva samples taken from her body. York said she will not name the victim publicly because of the high-profile and humiliating nature of the charges.

"You can't think of any way you could be more violated as a woman," York said. "Now she wants to hold them accountable."

After the July 2, 2004, incident, Mitchell resigned in lieu of being fired. Singleton, who attended the party while off duty, was given a one-month suspension. He served the suspension last year and has returned to work.

Other revelations of firefighter misconduct emerged after the Porn Star Costume Ball. An investigation found that firefighters drank alcohol on duty and cruised midtown bars at night to pick up women. In an unrelated incident, four other firefighters were investigated in January for having group sex in a firehouse.

In the fallout of the investigations, 24 firefighters received disciplinary actions, ranging from termination to oral reprimands. Two firefighters resigned in lieu of dismissal.

"This is a department, with the way it was managed, created a culture where captains and up to battalion chiefs permitted drinking on the job, picking up on women, going to strip clubs. Management ratified it," she said, noting that a fire captain who has since resigned was at the Porn Star Costume Ball.

The City Attorney's Office and Sacramento Fire Chief Julius "Joe" Cherry would not comment on the suit. Efforts to reach the two firefighters for comment were unsuccessful.

On July 2, York said the woman got a last-minute call from her boss to photograph the party at the Radisson Hotel. She agreed, and when she arrived, got a creepy feeling, York said.

"She thinks, 'I'll be safe hanging out with firefighters,'" the attorney said.

The woman said she thought Mitchell appeared fatherly, but had reservations when he asked her to go with him to the fire truck. Another off-duty firefighter came along, and she thought it would be OK, York said.

They took photos outside of the engine and one firefighter asked her to get in the cab. York said her client was inside for a few minutes when the men allegedly sexually assaulted her.

"She froze," York said. "She began to rock, going, 'Oh my God, when is this going to be over?'"

The lawsuit addresses supervision practices at the Fire Department, which also were discussed in a public hearing in August over the termination of Capt. Steven Conti, who was fired for picking up women and drinking while on duty.

During the hearing, attorney Etan Rosen called witnesses who spoke to the history of drinking and cruising for women on duty, and officials drinking on duty in the 1980s. The decision on Conti's employment is pending.

Brian Rice, president of Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522, said a lot has changed since those incidents. He said Cherry has shown strong leadership, implemented training and launched an internal affairs department. The union is writing a code of ethics.

"I hope that what has gone on is a kind of an awakening," Rice said. "You don't just make a bunch of new rules and committees. You have to open your eyes and continually monitor what's going on around you."

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