The State Worker

Orville Fleming called ‘a godsend’ by Cal Fire employee he helped cheat

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

The month before Sarah June Douglas was slain in her south Sacramento home, state firefighter James Michels reached out to the man eventually charged in the killing about a job opportunity at the department’s Ione academy.

Orville “Moe” Fleming, who would plead not guilty to the May 1 crime, knew the questions asked during interviews for the temporary fire captain position Michels coveted, the best answers interviewers wanted to hear and – according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection disciplinary records reviewed by The Sacramento Bee – sent a text to Michels with both.

Michels’ grateful text reply to Fleming, according to the department’s documentation: “ ‘You’re a godsend, I’m excited to come down and present.’ ”

Then another text to Fleming asked for clarification on one of the answers, the records state. After Fleming texted “more detailed information,” the Cal Fire documents say, Michels texted back, “ ‘Thanks. I struggled hard looking for that.’ ”

Michels got the job but he didn’t get to keep it for long. After his alleged cheating was discovered during a broader investigation of misdeeds by Ione academy instructors, the department rejected him on probation, returned him to his former fire apparatus engineer rank and cut his pay 5 percent for a year, according to disciplinary records.

Separately, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Russell Kane was rejected on probation after investigators alleged he drank at an April 30, 2014, cadet graduation celebration and with academy colleagues “at local establishments during the weekdays on more than one occasion.”

The department further punished Kane with a six-month demotion from fire captain to fire apparatus engineer, according to disciplinary documents.

Kane and Michels were snagged in an investigation that began in May after Fleming, a former battalion chief and academy instructor, was arrested and accused of killing Douglas, a 26-year-old former escort who became his girlfriend.

The murder case led to allegations that a sex tape had been recorded at the Ione facility. Cal Fire commissioned the California Highway Patrol to investigate. The ensuing $1.76 million probe failed to find a sex tape.

It did, however, uncover other alleged misdeeds that resulted in one Cal Fire employee’s resignation, the firing of two others, and demotions, suspensions and pay cuts for 13 more. The alleged misdeeds ranged from drinking on duty and displaying sexually explicit photographs on state cellphones to condoning sexual harassment and, in one case, allegations of using a state phone and vehicle to meet prostitutes.

Two other Cal Fire employees allegedly received fire captain promotional interview questions and answers from Fleming. They were demoted and their pay was cut 5 percent for a year.

Cal Fire has refused to release the report to The Bee. Ken Pimlott, the department’s director, has not made himself available for interviews.

Seven of the 15 disciplined Cal Fire employees appealed their punishments, including the two who were terminated. One appealed and then withdrew his challenge.

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

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