• Clay County fire officer paid to stay home for 2 months after shirtless text message investigation

    By: Jenna Bourne , Action News Jax


    It started with a shirtless photo and ended with an apology. 

    For the first time, we’re seeing text messages that got a Clay County Fire Department battalion chief in trouble.

    On Friday, Action News Jax told you that man is one of four Clay County Fire Department employees currently under investigation for separate issues.

    Action News Jax got copies of the late-night messages between the battalion chief, a female subordinate and her boyfriend from Clay County Human Resources.

    The battalion chief, who most recently worked at Station 22 in Fleming Island, faces termination.
    Action News Jax is choosing not to name him because the decision on how to discipline him is still open.

    The attorney for the battalion chief in question, Kyle Tate, has repeatedly agreed to talk to Action News Jax and then backed out again since Friday.

    The text messages included in the internal investigation packet show the married battalion chief asked his female subordinate to hang out at his Vilano Beach hotel for the weekend, then told her, “Don’t get me in trouble.”

    The woman texted him back, “Yeah no that’s not cool.”

    He promised not to cross the line “ever again” and apologized.

    Then, the woman’s boyfriend jumped into the text message conversation.

    “I’m not gonna make a stink of this because I know this is going to be the last time, correct?” the boyfriend texted.

    “I’m such a idiot when i been drinking... F*** my position,” texted the battalion chief, apologizing repeatedly.

    The woman later sent an email to Clay County Human Resources.

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    “He had also made the comment to me and other employees that I should talk to the female volunteers and new hires about how to deal with being a female in the fire service and the possibility of being approached sexually by coworkers,” said the fire department employee in her email to HR.

    The internal investigator concluded the battalion chief also made “sexual comments about one or more female employees while on duty.”

    That Clay County Fire battalion chief has been sitting at home on the taxpayer’s dime for two months, awaiting a decision on how he will be disciplined.

    The internal investigator completed his investigation on July 9 and recommended “suspension without pay at a minimum.”

    Clay County Fire Chief Lorin Mock told Action News Jax he recommended the battalion chief in question be fired.

    Ultimately, it’s Clay County Manager Stephanie Kopelousos’ decision.

    Kopelousos said her decision is taking this long because new information came up during a recent meeting. 

    She wouldn’t say what the information was, but said she is still reviewing it.

    “These are sensitive personnel issues that I’m trying to deal with in the most effective way,” said Kopelousos, who would not agree to allow Action News Jax to record the conversation.

    The internal investigator noted in his investigation packet that the battalion chief has not been formally disciplined in the past, but has been counseled several times for unprofessional behavior. 

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