Ohio battalion chief under investigation frequently called female cadets into his office

Records reveal that officials raised concerns about female cadets frequently being pulled out of training by the chief, who is accused of sexual harassment

Bill Bush
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus police have categorized its investigation of a city fire battalion chief who resigned last month after allegations of sexual harassment by female fire officials as a rape investigation, the lead investigator said Tuesday.

Also, the city Department of Public Safety released records from an interview done this month during the administrative investigation into Battalion Chief Joe Richard, 61, that indicate officials raised red flags about Richard calling female training cadets to meetings in his office at the Columbus Fire Training Academy on the South Side.

Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Joe Richard resigned last month after allegations he sexually harassed female fire officials.
Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Joe Richard resigned last month after allegations he sexually harassed female fire officials. (Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, file photo)

Cadets are akin to interns and are paid to train at the academy to be firefighters under a part-time program implemented by the division last spring.

Richard is not charged with any crime. Sgt. David Pelphrey wouldn't comment on the details of the investigation or whether the concerns about interactions with cadets is connected to the sexual assault allegation.

"It's still on ongoing investigation," said Pelphrey of the Columbus Police Sexual Assault Unit. "Crimes involving sexual assault and rape are very sensitive. It continues to be investigated and worked."

The place of occurrence listed in Pelphrey's police incident report is the Fire Academy, he said. That report wasn't immediately available Tuesday.

Richard, a recruiting specialist, was based at the academy complex.

Detectives have attempted to set up an interview with Richard, but have not yet been successful, Pelphrey said.

"We haven't received any information that would inform us what the nature of the allegation is," said Larry James, Richard's attorney. But James said he doesn't believe the case involves "the traditional things that most people would think of (as) rape."

"And obviously he denies any such allegations."

James said police tried to reach out directly to Richard to set up an interview, and he informed them that "they have to go through me." James said has not heard heard back.

"If you want to sit down and talk to my client, just call me, and we're more than willing," James said, adding that the lack of information from the police has been frustrating.

A heavily-redacted transcript of an interview with Firefighter Kylie Salvadore, who is on special assignment to train cadets, said she was asked to "check up" on the female cadets earlier this year.

The cadet program had just been launched in early April, and almost immediately Richard began randomly calling two female cadets to his office so frequently that trainers wanted to determine why, Salvador said in the transcript.

"Like we'd be in the middle of a physical fitness out back and he'd want to talk to one of them or we might be in class and he'd say send them down to my office."

In May, a fire official asked Richard why he was summoning cadets, and the requests for meetings with cadets abruptly ended.

Salvadore met with all five female cadets in private sessions, she said. What certain cadets told her was redacted from the report, citing two court opinions on how privacy of public officials and crime victims relates to public records.

Asked if she had discussed the case with anyone, Salvadore said: "No, just the cadet. It's the cadet herself."

James said he had read the redacted transcripts and "there's not much to conclude from those narratives, honestly."

The Fire Division unveiled the two-year internship program last April with the first class of 20 cadets, who were intended to foster greater diversity in the in the division. Fire cadets can graduate after two years with state certifications for firefighter, fire safety inspector and emergency medical technician. The paid program also asks cadets to be ambassadors in minority communities.

Cadets end training having received the same skills as newly hired Columbus firefighters, said Battalion Chief Steve Martin, the division's spokesman .

"They are student interns," Martin said, the only requirements that they are 18 or older, have a high school diploma or GED and a driver's license. They are paid to train 35 hours per week, he said.


©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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