SADOW: The Awful Shreveport Firefighter Case

While there are mishaps all around that led to the awful situation that has led to five arrests and the investigation of additional Shreveport firefighters, it does all begin and end with them and suggests the city has not done enough to prevent potential future similar problems from occurring.

In the past three weeks, arrests have been made connected to the alleged abuse of a couple of intellectually developmentally disabled individuals at Fire Station 8, located at the Fairgrounds, purported to be from the simply cruelly juvenile (stranding the individual on the roof for days) to the morally disturbing (goading the individual into illegal sexual activity while observed). Too many unsettling questions have arisen as these revelations emerged.

The first of which being how the presumed incidents came to the public consciousness. Details about the arrests apparently came from leaked court documents, and while a day later First District Attorney’s spokesman and fellow Fax-Net columnist Pat Culverhouse tendered his resignation, there apparently was no connection between the two events. But as the SFD had received notice of the allegations in late June and over a month passed before any arrests were made, this has led observers to wonder whether the SFD tried to downplay, if not quash, a criminal investigation.

Another question is how the individuals got put into the circumstances in the first place. Apparently for over three decades the family of one allowed this now-middle-aged man with the intellectual development of an eighth-grader to make regular, lengthy trips alone to the station, or to be given a ride to it by firefighters. These included overnight stays. Suffice to say even as the assumed guardians-for-a-day-or-more were public servants in a profession of high esteem, it seems negligent that a family would allow a member with such a disability to be entrusted to others so often and for such relatively lengthy periods.

This also points to an appalling lack of judgment, if not disregard for taxpayer resources, of the seemingly many firefighters over the decades who allowed this kind of relationship to continue. It’s one thing to like a guy and have a certain degree of kindness to have him hang around the firehouse a few hours every once-in-awhile and maybe even watch some flicks with him. It’s another entirely to have him almost take up residence there and sleep in fire trucks, as his family has said he told them.

Put it another way, is it wise to allow a non-employee of the city so much free run of the place? How did this affect the performance of the unit? What happened with him when the unit went out on call? What taxpayer resources did he use during his visits? Surely not just at that station but at all of them better judgment should have indicated that often hosting and being responsible for extended stretches of a developmentally disabled individual, whose skills of reasoning and judgment by definition were questionable, likely would impede optimal performance of critical public safety duties. And, perhaps, created an environment so insular that normal restraints against inappropriate behavior by city employees became too relaxed?

But perhaps most relevant is just who in the fire department, and city government as a whole, knew of these things and for how long. Over the decades dozens have worked at that station and yet no one seemed to think it was bad judgment to have such a situation evolve. And it would seem improbable that some officers higher up the command chain then and now also did not know of this. And, if so, has this caused any kind of impediment to the investigation?

In other words, it was irresponsible, even if motives had been to show kindness, to permit this. Even if the charges, as the judicial process will determine, resulted from misperception or misunderstanding, the fact is an environment where this could have happened or did happen never should have been allowed to form. And orders to reduce the presence of such individuals on public property and their use of it seem commonsensical yet never were given and/or enforced by immediate superiors at the station or those higher up, if they knew of it, or were ignored by those who received them if they ever did.

At the very least, this incident shows the city must enact a thorough review of regulations regarding use of city installations by non-city employees, employees’ knowledge of them, and of their responsibilities in enforcing them and in bringing to light violations of them. At the most, there must be investigation of the disquieting possibility that a number of city employees, maybe at higher levels than those arrested, either in the past neglected to make the appropriate administrative and personnel decisions that could have prevented this, or who now are trying to disclaim or hide from view that they failed to do so. To date, city officials have disclosed next to no information about this, nor have made any commitment to pursue this course to correct and to prevent obviously dangerous similar situations from manifesting.

Taxpayers want assurances that city resources are being used in the proper manner, and the citizenry as a whole does not want bad judgment to create the possibility that criminal activity would be encouraged by city employees and/or on city property. Shreveporters deserve to see the judicial system punish any guilty, and city government to investigate impartially the matter, wherever it may lead.

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