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New report questions what Fairfax County fire chief did about complaints against investigator

Watch news report from WUSA9.com’s Peggy Fox

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A report by WUSA9.com’s Peggy Fox shows exactly why there should have been an outside investigation into serious allegations against the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue Department in 2016 and why one is desperately needed now. This new reporting questions what Chief Richard Bowers knew about the man who investigated sexual harassment/discrimination complaints for the department and when he knew it.

According to Peggy Fox, during the week before the April 2016 suicide death of Firefighter Nicole Mittendorff that put the spotlight on how the department dealt with complaints by female firefighters, a firefighter claims she notified Chief Bowers about issues with the investigator:

After Nicole’s death, Jessica Pickett wrote to other firefighters, and Bowers: “On April 14th, I made Fire Chief Bowers aware of the bullying tactics and unprofessional actions taken by Mr. Morgan, however, nothing was done about it until weeks later when the press became aware of his illicit behavior.”

It wasn’t until a month later that Guy Morgan was removed from his position investigating internal complaints for the department. That didn’t come because of Jessica Pickett’s complaint to the chief. It occurred because of a news report by Peggy Fox about Morgan that showed what Fox called “dozens of lewd postings on his Facebook Page.”

Watch Chief Richard Bowers response to recent allegations

Previous coverage of this story

Despite these allegations — and at least one lawsuit that also cited inaction by the command staff — those in charge in Fairfax County essentially made the decision to allow the fire chief and the top brass to investigate itself. As STATter911.com pointed out then, failing to order an independent, outside investigation was unfair to all. This includes Chief Bowers, his command staff, Guy Morgan and all of the accused. Such an investigation was the only way to determine what was true and what wasn’t. We still don’t know those answers.

And now here we are, almost two years later, with Fairfax County again in a similar position. It was last week’s reporting by Fox that broke the news of the resignation letter by Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley. In the letter, Stanley asked to leave her post as Women’s Program Officer. That position was created following the problems that came to light in 2016.

The initial reaction from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Chairman Sharon Bulova was to rally around Chief Bowers without even talking to Chief Stanley or investigating the laundry list of complaints outlined in her letter. Even though Stanley blasted the leadership of Bowers and his command staff, Bulova still didn’t initially see the need to take this out of the hands of the chief.

Finally, after a week of missteps and more self-inflicted pain, Chairman Bulova announced there will be an investigation into the allegations made by Chief Stanley. But it won’t come from the outside. Once again, Fairfax County will investigate itself. The supervisors have appointed the county executive to lead the investigation.

This is absurd. After booting this badly in 2016, those in charge still can’t see the error of their ways. The leadership of Fairfax County doesn’t understand that by failing to demand the real accountability and transparency that comes from an outsider looking in, it may be almost impossible to restore the image of the department. Anything less at this point will continue to fuel suspicions over how seriously the county takes complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Some of the finest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing work for Fairfax County Fire & Rescue. As a resident of 20-years, it’s painful to see the reputation of this excellent department destroyed. I have zero inside information that clearly tells me who’s right in this latest dispute — Battalion Chief Stanley or Fire Chief Bowers (watch press conference, below, of Chief Bowers calling Stanley’s accusations “misleading”). The only thing I’m certain of is that Sharon Bulova and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors are, once again, wrong.

Press briefing to update the community on the progress made regarding the Organizational Cultural Assessment.

Posted by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department on Thursday, February 1, 2018

 

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