FDNY Chief relieved of duty pending review of 'inappropriate behavior'

Chief of Department James Leonard has been put on desk duty, but inside sources said he’s made it clear he’s going to fight for his job


By Ginger Adams Otis and Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News 

NEW YORK — Chief of Department James Leonard, the top uniformed officer in the FDNY, has been relieved of his duties and put on modified assignment pending a review of possible “inappropriate behavior,” a spokesman said Thursday.

The move came two days after the Daily News reported on allegations that Leonard was butting heads with many in the FDNY, including First Deputy Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, the lone woman at the top of the roster.

Chief of Department James Leonard, the top uniformed officer in the FDNY, has been relieved of his duties and put on modified assignment. (Photo/FDNY)
Chief of Department James Leonard, the top uniformed officer in the FDNY, has been relieved of his duties and put on modified assignment. (Photo/FDNY)

In response to queries from The News earlier in the week, the FDNY said the Law Department was opening a review of the allegations about Leonard.

On Thursday, the FDNY announced he was stripped of his title and put on desk duty — but he is still with the agency and inside sources said he’s made it clear he’s going to fight for his job.

“While a review is conducted by the city’s Law Department concerning allegations of inappropriate behavior, Chief James Leonard has been relieved of his Chief of Department title effective today and placed on modified assignment,” said FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon.

Chief of Operations John Sudnick is now the acting chief of department, the agency said.

As chief of department, Leonard was second only to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

It was the city’s Law Department, not Nigro, that informed Leonard Thursday of the decision to put him on modified duty, FDNY sources told The News.

The change came after The News reported on problems between Leonard, 59, and some of his past and current staff chiefs as well as Kavanagh.

Many in the FDNY are loyal to Leonard, who came up the ranks as a firefighter from Brooklyn.

But other chiefs and FDNY staff ran into problems with what they called his abrasive and aggressive manner.

His tendency to shout at and berate other chiefs in private and public raised hackles — and his apparent deep dislike of Kavanagh, the second-highest ranking civilian administrator in the department, was an open secret, sources told The News earlier this week.

Leonard told other chiefs to freeze Kavanagh out of departmental communications and decisions — or else, sources told The News on Tuesday.

Chiefs who ran afoul of his temper were chewed out and sometimes forced out of the agency, according to multiple FDNY sources.

In 2015, Leonard allegedly raised his voice to chastise a popular FDNY chaplain — who is a woman and a lesbian — at the Gay Pride Parade outside Stonewall Inn for dancing in uniform, sources said.

He had a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personality, according to those who know him.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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