The State Worker

Cal Fire employees cheated to get jobs

Former Cal Fire Battalion Chief Orville Fleming is arraigned in Sacramento Superior Court on a murder charge on May 20, 2014, in Sacramento.
Former Cal Fire Battalion Chief Orville Fleming is arraigned in Sacramento Superior Court on a murder charge on May 20, 2014, in Sacramento. Sacramento Bee file

Two Cal Fire managers allegedly cheated to get leadership jobs at the department’s Ione academy, and others drank while on duty and on state property, according to state records released Friday.

Other Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employees engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior, the documents show, and one allegedly lied to police investigators about kissing a cadet.

The records add more details to a sordid story that started with a homicide that prompted a $2 million investigation of Cal Fire’s academy southeast of Sacramento. The fallout led to one employee’s resignation, the firings of two others and suspensions, demotions and pay cuts for 13 more.

All but one worked at the academy. None work there now, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton.

Eight contested the actions taken against them for everything from drinking on the job and condoning sexual harassment of women to using state property to meet prostitutes and displaying explicit images on state cellphones.

None of the five employees named in the latest batch of records, received by The Sacramento Bee via a Public Records Act request, contested the department’s disciplinary actions. In some instances they admitted to their misbehavior.

The latest documents released say that fire apparatus engineers Justin Chaplin and Frank Schonig admitted to cheating on oral exams to get promoted to academy management jobs with the help of former Battalion Chief Orville Fleming.

Fleming worked in Ione until last year when he was charged with the May 1 homicide of his 26-year-old girlfriend, Sarah Douglas. He has pleaded not guilty.

During the murder investigation, Fleming’s estranged wife claimed a sex tape had been shot at the academy. Cal Fire asked the California Highway Patrol to look into the allegations. CHP found no credible evidence of a tape, but interviews and cellphone records turned up other misdeeds.

According to the disciplinary records, Chaplin and Schonig contacted Fleming last April to let him know they were interested “in a limited-term fire captain position at the academy.”

Fleming sent them a text message with “a picture of the interview questions and desired answers,” according to the documents. Both men used the information during a subsequent interview and were hired. In questioning, Chaplin and Schonig “admitted to all of the above,” the state records state.

Both men were briefly demoted to their previous positions as fire apparatus engineers and their pay was reduced by 5 percent for one year. Both are back at work as captains, according to Upton. Cal Fire allowed them to remain eligible to promote again, however, because of their “honesty during this investigation,” according to the disciplinary documents.

As with several earlier Cal Fire cases reported by The Bee over the last few weeks, the new records show managers and cadets consumed alcohol while on duty, usually at graduation ceremonies and at local bars.

In one case, Ione Fire Capt. Deanna Lyman brought a bartender on academy grounds at night without checking in. She then “began knocking on doors in the dormitory hallways, searching for Cadet (redacted) to go out” with her, the documents state.

Lyman admitted her “actions that night were inappropriate,” according to the disciplinary record. She also admitted to having “purchased rounds of alcoholic beverages” for her subordinates at graduation celebrations while on duty and to drinking beer with cadets in her trailer on academy grounds, according to the documents.

Cal Fire suspended Lyman for 60 days without pay and demoted her to fire apparatus engineer.

Other employees disciplined for misbehavior, according to the documents released Friday, include:

▪ Academy Fire Capt. Ben Frates allegedly “engaged in inappropriate behavior” during an April 2014 graduation party when he “intimately kissed one of the cadets.” The female cadet admitted to the incident, the Cal Fire document states, and other cadets witnessed it.

The department concluded that Frates “lied to law enforcement officers” during questioning because he denied kissing the cadet and his “answers changed multiple times.”

He also drank alcohol at cadet graduation celebrations and took no action when he saw subordinates and “fellow instructors” doing the same, the records show.

Cal Fire demoted Frates to fire apparatus engineer and suspended him without pay for 30 days. He couldn’t be reached for comment Friday

▪ Fire Capt. John Sado allegedly engaged in “touching, groping and grinding” that was observed by others during a December 2013 graduation celebration at a bar. Sado denied doing more than putting his arm around the woman.

Sado admitted he displayed a “photograph of (redacted) bare breasts to fellow instructors while on duty” at the academy.

The behavior, according to the documents, violated department policies that require professional conduct while on active duty or on standby duty.

Cal Fire suspended him for 15 days without pay and demoted him to fire apparatus engineer.

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

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