Española Firefighters Appeal 'Porn' Punishment

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Española Fire Department Deputy Chief Eric Tafoya was the subject of a grievance and a letter regarding resignation following his actions against some firefighters after they did not dispose of what he called “pornographic” materials left there by a city-contracted construction crew.

Española Deputy Fire Chief Eric Tafoya found himself in the hot seat after the Española Firefighter Union IAFF Local 4399 filed a grievance alleging that he failed to follow the progressive discipline policy and favored some firefighters over others.

The allegations stem from disciplinary action handed down by Tafoya over some advertisements left in the La Joya Street Fire Station in June by a city-contracted construction crew, and a separate incident involving Union President John Wickersham.

According to a Notice of Contemplated Disciplinary Action from Tafoya, a firefighter arrived at work on June 5 and found three cards “featuring sexually explicit depictions of semi-nude females” on a table.

The cards, according to a member of the construction crew who refused to be identified, were advertisements procured in Las Vegas, Nev. which were readily available on the street in that city.

Now-former firefighter Enrico Trujillo said when the construction worker tried to give him the cards, he declined. He said the worker left the materials on a table, and he later told Lieutenant Ron Padilla about the exchange.

“A firefighter coming on shift observed that there was pornographic material on the table when he was coming on shift,” Tafoya wrote in a final notice to Trujillo. “I subsequently investigated and determined that you were present when the material was received, allegedly from a contractor on site, and subsequently you chose to leave the material on the table when your shift ended.”

Trujillo maintained that he never touched the cards.

Tafoya disciplined three firefighters for the incident: Trujillo, Zack Logsdon and Lt. Ron Padilla. He wrote that Padilla failed in his supervisory duties to properly address the cards, and found that Logsdon also failed to take action to remove the materials left by the contractor.

A Notice of Final Action dated July 8 to Logsdon and Trujillo informed them that they would be receiving a two-day suspension without pay for the incident as well as having documentation in their file for the alleged “harassment,” which the letter said was reclassified from “sexual harassment.”

Padilla received a formal “write-up.”

A July 15 formal grievance from the Union stated that the city government failed to follow due process in its investigation and disciplinary actions into the incident.

Tafoya also handed down a verbal reprimand to Wickersham for a June 11 incident.

According to a June 11 memorandum authored by Tafoya, he and Wickersham were discussing the soon-to-be-delivered ladder truck, when an argument ensued.

Tafoya wrote that Wickersham would not stop yelling at him, even though he was on the phone with Administrative Assistant Jeanne Bustos.

“Wickersham continued yelling,” Tafoya wrote. “I asked him to stop several times.”

Tafoya wrote that he told Wickersham he had no common courtesy or respect.

“I yelled ‘Shot up (sic) I’m on the phone,’” Tafoya wrote. “I than (sic) told him he’d better mind his tone.”

A letter from Wickersham concerning the incident said what Tafoya wrote was untrue and lacked major parts of what actually happened.

Wickersham said he and Tafoya were talking about renaming the new ladder truck and that Wickersham planned to post information on the Union’s Facebook page when Tafoya became upset.

“At this point he got extremely upset and started raising his voice,” Wickersham wrote. “He was extremely upset and yelled, ‘Shut the (expletive) up.’”

After the incident, Wickersham wrote that Firefighter Pablo Montoya told him he handled the situation better than Tafoya.

Wickersham detailed other instances where he said Tafoya yelled at him using foul language.

He wrote Tafoya also got upset, yelled and cursed at him concerning the pay plan, and for requesting permission from the public safety director to attend public events in which Tafoya did not want to participate.

He also wrote Tafoya was “beyond upset,” after Wickersham talked to the Mayor and city councilors about splitting the police and fire departments.

“He stated, yelling ‘It will never happen,’ and hung up the phone after a long debate,” Wickersham wrote.

A witness statement from Trujillo regarding the incident noted he had heard Tafoya say multiple times that he did not want to be in the deputy chief’s position any longer and that he had seen Tafoya use vulgar language multiple times towards his subordinates.

Wickersham, in his capacity as Union president, said Union representatives met with interim city manager Xavier Martinez July 26 to change the disciplinary action handed down by Tafoya.

Wickersham said neither Trujillo nor Logsdon would receive any suspension, and after six months the firefighters would be able to request the disciplinary information be removed from their files.

Mayor Javier Sanchez said July 26 he could not comment on individual personnel matters, but that he did believe disciplinary actions should be applied equitably for all city employees.

Trujillo resigned over Tafoya’s handling of the “pornographic material” incident and what he called problems with the upper management both within the Fire Department and the city government.

“This in no way includes the three current Lieutenants,” Trujillo wrote. “Or any other fire department staff with the exception of the Deputy Chief Eric Tafoya.”

Trujillo wrote that instead of addressing what could be policy violations at a low level, Tafoya was quick to take complaints to the highest level, and offered no form of progressive discipline.

He recommended Tafoya and other leaders throughout the city government enroll in a leadership class to become acquainted with proper discipline procedures and learn more about complying with due process and union contracts.

Trujillo also raised concerns about fraternization or nepotism within the workplace. He listed actions by Tafoya’s assistant Bustos as examples. He wrote that Bustos should not have access to participate in fire department classes, or to monitor or operate radios that firefighters use to communicate.

“The assistant should also not be allowed to operate any form of fire apparatus, or hold card keys that grant access into (the Department’s) living quarters,” Trujillo wrote. “She is neither a firefighter nor police officer.”

Trujillo wrote that he felt “targeted” and “harassed” by Tafoya, but made it clear his immediate supervisors were exempt from his concerns.

“I hope that this letter is not overlooked and changes are made,” Trujillo wrote in closing.

Bustos declined to comment and referred all questions to Tafoya, who said Monday he was unaware of any grievances and declined to comment.

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