Calif. mayor says firefighters, strip club investigation is missing full story
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said the information from firefighters involved seemed “very rehearsed”
By Gabriel Greschler
The Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — In his first public remarks since the release of the investigative report on the infamous incident involving the San Jose firefighters who dropped off a bikini-clad woman at the Pink Poodle strip club in October, Mayor Matt Mahan said he was “disappointed” and “concerned” by the contents of the internal probe and how it was conducted.
Under court order after a lawsuit from this news organization, the city released 100 pages of documents about the Oct. 5 scandal last week, revealing that Fire Captain William Tognozzi was picking up a flash drive at the strip club that contained pictures of his colleagues taken by a Pink Poodle employee.
But investigators also found that Tognozzi — along with firefighters Brian Dragges, Zach Clark and Matthew Westcott — made a second stop that night at A.J.’s, a bikini bar. None of the crew came clean about that part of the story, an apparent violation of the department’s code of conduct. Only Tognozzi, who was demoted to fire engineer, was disciplined.
“When the report did finally become public, and we all had a chance to take a look at it, it felt incomplete to me,” said Mahan in an interview. “It does not feel like we’re getting the full story. And I don’t think that’s acceptable for public servants.” Mahan added that he felt the story offered to investigators by the firefighters involved felt “very rehearsed.”
Mahan also said that either the other three firefighters should have been disciplined in addition to Tognozzi, or investigators should have “demanded more facts or details.” The mayor said he expressed his concerns to City Manager Jennifer Maguire, who oversees personnel matters.
When reached for comment about the investigation, Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez, Omar Torres, David Cohen, Peter Ortiz, Dev Davis, Bien Doan and Pam Foley declined to discuss it. Councilmembers Rosemary Kamei, Domingo Candelas and Arjun Batra did not respond to a request for comment.
The mayor’s comments echo a steady trickle of criticism about the city’s probe into the October incident.
After the report was released, former Mayor Sam Liccardo and experts in personnel investigations raised questions about the investigation, specifically about the stop at A.J.’s that lasted two minutes.
Liccardo, a former federal prosecutor and mayor during the time of the incident, said shortly after that “heads must roll” if the video of the incident proved to be “as bad as it looks.” Upon review of the investigatory documents, he didn’t mince words: “Nobody has a recollection of that?” Liccardo asked about the A.J.’s stop. “I don’t buy that.”
The investigatory records were released to this news organization after a Santa Clara County judge ordered their disclosure in July. The incident came to light after a short video outside of the Pink Poodle was posted on an Instagram account called San Jose Foos with the caption, “Only in San Jose do you see a stripper come out of a firetruck.”
So far, Fire Chief Robert Sapien and the four firefighters haven’t publicly commented on the incident. The photographer didn’t cooperate with investigators and wasn’t named in the documents.
On the night of Oct. 5, the firefighters left their station at 9 p.m. and arrived at the Pink Poodle six minutes later, according to a timeline of the incident provided by Sapien earlier this year. A woman approached the firetruck and pressed the firefighters for a ride along, which the crew agreed to after “she persisted,” the chief’s memo states. The crew circled the block for four minutes, dropped off the woman, and then headed to A.J.’s Restaurant and Bar. The truck arrived back at the fire station at 9:20 p.m.
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