The State Worker

Sex photos on state cellphones surface in Cal Fire discipline cases

Former Cal Fire Battalion Chief Orville Fleming is arraigned in Sacramento Superior Court on a murder charge in 2014.
Former Cal Fire Battalion Chief Orville Fleming is arraigned in Sacramento Superior Court on a murder charge in 2014. Sacramento Bee file

One Cal Fire captain supposedly received an Internet link from a colleague for a private sex club on his state cellphone. An assistant chief allegedly thought nothing of a supervisor slapping the rear end of a female cadet. Investigators said another captain put hundreds of sexually explicit pictures of his wife on his state cellphone.

And, according to Cal Fire employee discipline records released Friday, there was drinking on the job. Sometimes a lot of it.

Those allegations and others have surfaced in employee disciplinary documents released Friday that portray some of the department’s employees as indulgent frat boys on state time.

The department fired one accused manager, demoted one and suspended and demoted two others, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection files issued in response to a Sacramento Bee Public Records Act request.

The employees, Mike Ramirez, Bryant Camarena, Michael Roe and Daniel Valenzuela, have all filed appeals with the State Personnel Board. If they win, they will be reinstated to their former positions and receive back pay for all lost wages.

All four men worked at Cal Fire’s Ione academy, which came under intense scrutiny in the wake of the May 1 slaying of 26-year-old Sarah Douglas. Her boyfriend, former Cal Fire Battalion Chief Orville Fleming, worked at the facility and has been accused of the murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

Fleming’s wife alleged the existence of a sex tape shot at the academy, which prompted Cal Fire to enlist the California Highway Patrol to conduct a $2 million investigation. CHP did not find credible evidence of a sex tape, but its probe led to the firing of two employees and disciplinary actions against 13 others in December and January. The cases that surfaced Friday were part of that investigation.

In one file, Assistant Chief Ramirez challenged his January termination for a number of alleged violations, including failing to act when Fleming, his subordinate, slapped a female cadet on the buttocks during April 12, 2014, class-training exercise.

Later, according to the Cal Fire disciplinary document, Ramirez addressed the entire class and told them nothing inappropriate had occurred.

The female cadet had told him that the incident was “not a big deal,” so he determined there was no misconduct by Fleming, the disciplinary record states. Asked later to rank the severity of the incident as a policy violation on a scale of 1 to 10, the record says, Ramirez rated it as a “nothing.”

While working at the Ione academy on an unspecified date, Fleming showed Ramirez and other employees “inappropriate images” on his cellphone, including a partially nude photograph of his late (redacted),” according to the termination file. The file also says a fire captain displayed inappropriate photos “in the dormitory area of the academy” on an unspecified date.

Ramirez was the ranking officer during those incidents, other employees told investigators, but allegedly failed to address either situation or to take them to his superiors.

The documents also say Ramirez drank alcohol at a cadet graduation ceremony and allowed subordinates to do the same, which Cal Fire says violated policy against drinking while on duty.

Ramirez’s attorney, Gary Messing, said his client is fighting to keep his job because some allegations are “overblown and exaggerated” and the others have no merit.

“After conducting a massive investigation,” Messing said, “the department probably had to come up with something to justify the time and expense.”

In their appeals, Camarena, Roe and Valenzuela all deny the allegations against them. Their union representative, Jennifer Horst, did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

Battalion Chief Camarena was demoted to fire apparatus engineer – a pay cut of up to $1,800 per month, the records say. His alleged indiscretions included displaying inappropriate sexual images on his state cellphone, which also had links to “photographs of women which were sexual in nature,” according to the documents.

“A forensic analysis of your state cellular phone revealed 7,198 digital photographs saved to the device,” Cal Fire said in its disciplinary document, including “hundreds” of sexually explicit and suggestive images of his spouse.

Cal Fire officials said Camarena also drank and allowed subordinates to drink at graduation ceremonies and failed to report when a Cal Fire van was used to transport inebriated cadets from Bg’s Lounge in Jackson to the Ione academy.

They said Fire Captain Roe also drank at cadet graduation celebrations and consumed alcoholic beverages with other fire captains and cadets at an unnamed Sutter Creek bar.

On April 30, 2014, according to Cal Fire documents, Roe “failed to render aid to an unconscious subordinate cadet” who became “extremely intoxicated, vomited in the bar, and lost consciousness.” Other cadets put their unconscious comrade in the back of a pickup truck in the bar parking lot “until his mother arrived.”

Roe was suspended without pay for 60 days ending April 11 and demoted to fire apparatus engineer, the records say.

They say Valenzuela, another fire captain, was suspended for 30 days and similarly demoted for allegedly drinking at graduation celebrations and displaying sexual pictures on his state cellphone. He used the Cal Fire vehicle that transported drunk cadets from Bg’s Lounge, according to the disciplinary documents.

Valenzuela also “received a non-business related Internet link to a private sex club for swingers” on his state phone from an unnamed fire captain, the Cal Fire document states, and forwarded the link to his personal cellphone.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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