Cal Fire officials put 16 workers on administrative leave Monday after receiving preliminary results of an investigation into allegations that firefighters had sex with prostitutes at the Fire Academy in Ione.
The allegations surfaced after Orville Fleming, a former Cal Fire battalion chief, was arrested in May on suspicion of murdering his girlfriend, 26-year-old Sarah Douglas. Authorities said Douglas worked as a paid escort when she and Fleming met two years earlier.
Fleming’s wife, Meagan Fleming, reported that her husband and other firefighters had sex with prostitutes at Cal Fire’s training academy in Ione and that she had seen a videotape of Douglas having sex with firefighters on fire trucks.
Cal Fire asked the California Highway Patrol to investigate those claims in late May, and results of the investigation are expected in early January, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said Monday.
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“Based on the preliminary information from our investigators, we did move forward with placing 16 of our employees on administrative leave,” Berlant said.
While the firefighting agency has not received the full CHP report, Berlant said one of Meagan Fleming’s allegations has been disproved.
“They did find the allegations of a sex tape were not credible,” he said.
Asked whether there had been any determination about her allegations that firefighters had sex on fire trucks and with prostitutes, Berlant said: “That’s something we are waiting for.”
Berlant said most of the 16 employees placed on leave work at Cal Fire’s training facility in Ione. Beyond that, he would not provide any identifying information about who is involved or what they are accused of doing.
“Until they turn over (the investigation), we don’t have the full extent of what may have happened or what may be alleged,” he said.
CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader declined to comment and referred all questions about the investigation to Berlant.
Mike Lopez, president of the labor union that represents Cal Fire firefighters, said he was notified Monday morning that 16 employees were being put on leave but had no further information about the CHP’s findings.
“I have not seen any reports. Nothing was given to me or any of our officers,” Lopez said.
He said he expected to learn more in the coming days as the investigation is turned over and the affected employees contact their union representatives.
Lopez said his only firsthand experience at the academy in Ione was more than 20 years ago, when he went through training there as a young cadet. At the time, he said, there was “absolutely not” a climate that involved sexual trysts with prostitutes.
Rumors of inappropriate and potentially illegal behavior surfaced this spring after Fleming’s arrest, Lopez said.
“I think everyone was taken by surprise with this,” he said. “This (is a) very unfortunate situation that the employees of Cal Fire – all of us – are now having to deal with.”
The case has generated widespread attention since Douglas’ body was found on May 1 in the south Sacramento home she shared with Fleming.
Authorities launched a massive manhunt for Fleming, who was on the lam for more than two weeks and lost his job at Cal Fire when he failed to show up for work. When he surrendered after 16 days, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said that Fleming told detectives he had killed Douglas by stabbing her.
Fleming, 56, appeared in Sacramento Superior Court in October and pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder.