Escambia County

Inweekly has IA report on Escambia Fire harassment case

January 30, 2018

Inweekly has obtained the Internal Affairs Report regarding sexual harassment inside Escambia County Fire Rescue. The name of the complainant has been redacted but the firefighter under investigation was Christopher Watson. The newspaper also received, via a public record requests, a 24-page journal kept by the complainant, statements from witnesses and several other documents, including several letters in support of Watson.

The investigation was conducted by Sgt. Jerry Champion from Sept. 19-Nov. 20, 2017.

The female firefighter’s journal reflects incidents of workplace harassment, sexual harassment, a hostile work environment and miscellaneous policy violations. The female firefighter was hired in October 2015. She has a degree from Auburn University, is a Registered Nurse and certified Fire EMT, worked four years in the Auburn Fire Division before moving to Pensacola, has 360 hours of training at the Fire Academy, and has achieved Firefighter II status.

In her interview with Champion, she said that she reported several incidents to her lieutenant that she believed “were a little over the line.” She said, “Things were not being handled. Eventually it got to my battalion chief–I would just be moved to other stations.”

She said when it got so that she couldn’t handle the harassment any more she tried to meet with Fire Chief Pat Grace but he refused to meet with her. When a complaint was filed against her that she had exposed herself to the other guys and an investigation was going to be conducted, “I knew that was bogus, and I then decided to take it further and made an appointment with the County Administrator (Jack Brown) to let them know what was going on, and they put me on administrative leave and started the investigation.”

She said that while she was on her initial six-month probation, Firefighter Watson made a motion at a union meeting to change the service required to test for lieutenant from two year with Escambia County and three yeas with another career fire department to five years with Escambia. She alleged that Watson said he specifically did so that she could not test for higher rank in two years.

She told the investigator about Watson, “He was singling me out, and he had strong opinions from day one about how I–how females should not be in the fire service, in the military…”

In her journal, she wrote how during HAZMAT training Watson grabbed a male firefighter and asked him, “You want to play the rape game?” while staring her down. She walked away and got into the ambulance. She wrote, “I heard Watson make a remark about how I was too good to hang out with the rest of the group.”

Adding to the harassment complaint was a battery incident against Watson while he was off-duty in August 2016. The incident report was given to Inweekly. Watson reportedly broke the jaw of Lt. Joseph Martin in a fight at the Tin Cow in Pace.

In his findings, Sgt. Champion determined Watson had violated county policies in the following manner:

-Verbal Harassment – inappropriate verbal remarks
-Physical Harassment – unwanted touching
-Sexual Harassment – “Rape Game” incident.

Champion wrote, “The preponderance of evidence reflected a pattern of harassment and abusive behavior. The severity of the harassment/behavior is beyond the level of a “First Offense”; being conduct that is a very serious infraction and prohibited by law.”

Read Amended IA Report F2017-001A

Firefighter Watson responded to the allegations in a letter to the County Administrator.

He wrote, “I have never knowingly created an atmosphere in which to discriminate against anyone based on their gender or sex…There have been times that I have expressed an opinion that no person: male or female, be allowed to perform this job if they are not physically capable of performing at the highest tier. If that was construed to be taken as an affront to any female employees then I am sincerely apologetic.”

He said that he had never worked at the “same station, shift or participated in pass down” with the complainant. He also apologized for the “Rape Game” comment – “I admittedly made an inappropriate comment to a fellow co-worker.” However, he said, “This comment in no way shape or form was intended to intimidate or harass any individual, nor do I believe it represents my beliefs or character.”

Concerning the Tin Cow fight, Watson said both parties were disciplined by Chief Grace, receiving verbal counseling and letters of reprimand – “Unfortunately, neither Martin or I received a copy of this letter, but we were told this would stay with the fire chief and remain at the department level.”

Watson concluded in his letter, “I take all the accusations very seriously and just want the opportunity to show Escambia County that I can and will be better in the future.”

Read Watson Letter.

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3 Comments

  • Reply morphus January 31, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Rick WEAR mentions a 627-page report which details how cases of misconduct were mishandled or ignored by management. Will the public ever see that report?

    • Reply Rick Outzen January 31, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      WEAR is referring to all the public documents that were released. This is the official report.

      • Reply morphus January 31, 2018 at 2:46 pm

        Thanks

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