‘Axe to grind’? Head of 911 fire dispatch denies making threat of ‘vigilante justice’

The attorney for Sacramento fire and EMS 911 dispatch’s embattled former executive director has provided The Sacramento Bee with 48 pages of court documents filed Wednesday, vehemently denying key details surrounding the April 8 incident that led to the restraining order being granted against him.

Joseph Thuesen has been placed on administrative leave from the top job at Sacramento Regional Fire and EMS Communications Center since April 12, with center board chairman Chris Costamagna telling The Bee in emailed statements the leave was due to “accounting irregularities” brought to the board’s attention.

Three days later, a temporary restraining order was granted against Thuesen on behalf of his workplace, after Costamagna and two of Thuesen’s employees wrote declarations claiming they feared for their safety after an alleged conversation involving Thuesen. The petition had included written declarations attached by the center’s deputy directors, Kylee Soares and Diane House.

In his response declaration filed in court Wednesday, Thuesen claims that House – who was the only employee who made the allegations based on firsthand involvement in the conversation – severely misconstrued or fabricated the four statements that she referenced within her restraining order petition:

▪ “ ‘I have an arsenal at my house’

▪ ‘There is such a thing as vigilante justice’

▪ ‘It will be on like donkey kong’

▪ ‘If I could pack a gun I would.’ ”

Thuesen writes that he never claimed to have an arsenal at his house; that he did not reference “vigilante justice” but said, “justice will prevail” (a biblical reference, he adds); that he uses the phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong” jokingly on a regular basis with no implication of violence; and that the “pack a gun” comment may have been in reference to a previous conversation.

Thuesen’s declaration says that in March of this year, House twice accused Thuesen of carrying a “gun or a knife in (his ankle).” He lifted his pant leg to show Thuesen that it was actually an ankle brace he wars due to a “military service-connected disability.” Upon doing so, House said she wished she could carry a weapon, Thuesen wrote, and in response, he says he told her: “If I could, I would too.”

However, he wrote that he has not owned guns or weapons since ending service with the Marines in 1993.

The filings include declarations in support of Thuesen written by four of his longtime former colleagues at the center, who all wrote that they have never known Thuesen to own firearms or show a violent temper; his wife; his best friend; and his therapist, Kay M. Williams, who attested that Thuesen was not evaluated for a psychiatric hold because she “did not have concerns that Mr. Thuesen was a danger to himself or others.”

Thuesen also claims that he was given no explanation for why he was placed on leave, and that he found out the investigation into financial discrepancies when he was served legal notice of the restraining order on April 18.

The filing posits that House had “an axe to grind,” was upset with Thuesen and motivated to make a “false report” for numerous reasons.

Thuesen’s attorney Katrina Saleen’s wrote that these reasons include: Thuesen “refusing to hire her daughter-in-law and a friend,” House being “upset with Mr. Thuesen’s decision to share with legal counsel that she omitted a prior employer from her résumé” and because “she (House) stands to be benefit from his removal from Executive Director, where there is a chance that she can be named Interim Executive Director.”

Thuesen also says that he was in the process of an internal, confidential investigation into House after an unnamed employee alleged that she made racially insensitive comments.

In his declaration, Thuesen calls House “hypersensitive, emotional, and paranoid at work.”

A hearing regarding permanent status on Thuesen’s restraining order is scheduled for Friday morning. Previous requests for comment for House, Soares and regarding dispatch center matters have been redirected to Costamagna.

“The center stands by the declarations filed with the court in support of our petition, which we are seeking out of an abundance of caution for our employees,” Costamagna said in a statement emailed to The Bee.

Costamagna said he would comment further after the court’s ruling Friday.

Thuesen also has not responded to The Bee’s requests for comment. In his declaration, he mentions being contacted by a Bee reporter, but notes that the restraining order and the memo placing him on administrative leave instructed him not to discuss the matter with anyone.

An interim executive director, former Sacramento Fire Department battalion chief Marc Bentovoja, was appointed Tuesday.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.