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Alcohol, sex photos led to California firefighter discipline

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    At podium is Joe Schulle, President of Philadelphia Firefighters and Paramedics Union Local 22 the union that represents Philadelphia fire fighters. Standing in foreground is Regina Hertzig, legal counsel for the local.
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. » Firefighters at the state’s fire academy drank on duty and displayed sexually explicit photographs on state cellphones, and a battalion chief slapped a female cadet on the buttocks, according to disciplinary records made public Friday.

The allegations are contained in four complaints brought by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. They were released to The Associated Press and Sacramento Bee in response to Public Records Act requests.

Assistant Chief Mike Ramirez was fired last month for drinking alcohol and allowing others to drink on duty. He also is accused of failing to take action when former battalion chief and academy instructor Orville Fleming allegedly slapped the cadet’s behind.

The complaints came after a $2 million investigation that started in May after Fleming was charged with murder in the death of a former escort who became his girlfriend. He has pleaded not guilty to killing 26-year-old Sarah June Douglas.

The public records say Fleming displayed a partially nude photo of the victim to Ramirez, although the name of his late girlfriend was redacted. Ramirez also failed to act when Fleming made sexual comments to another female firefighter, or when a third firefighter showed sexually explicit photographs in the academy’s dormitory area, according to the documents.

Ramirez also is accused of misusing his state vehicle, being insubordinate and lying during the investigation, among other allegations.

Three other firefighters are also challenging their discipline.

Battalion Chief Bryant Camarena is appealing the demotion he received for showing colleagues some of the hundreds of sexual images he had on his state-issued cellphone, among other alleged violations. Fire captains Michael T. Roe and Daniel Valenzuela are appealing their demotions for consuming alcohol and tolerating others’ drinking on duty.

Valenzuela also is accused misusing a state vehicle to return drunken cadets to the academy and displaying sexual photographs on his cellphone. Roe is also accused of failing to aid a cadet who became so drunk he passed out at a bar.

Their union is representing the firefighters, though President Mike Lopez and spokesman Terry McHale declined comment Friday. Neither Ramirez nor Camarena responded to requests for comment made through the union.

The complaints became public when the four employees appealed their punishments to the State Personnel Board.

They are among 16 employees who faced discipline from the investigation. One resigned, a second employee was fired and the others were suspended, demoted or had their pay reduced. Fifteen of the 16 were instructors at the fire academy in Ione, 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.

Department spokeswoman Janet Upton also declined comment, citing the ongoing appeals process.

Fleming’s estranged wife told Sacramento County sheriff’s investigators and reporters that she watched a video that showed the victim having sex with her husband and other firefighters on fire trucks.

Investigators never found the video and discounted the report, but news of her partially nude photo had not previously been made public.

Fleming was arrested following a two-week manhunt after Douglas’ body was discovered in the home they shared. Fleming is next scheduled to appear in court in March.

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