A mass resignation of employees happened at the Mad River Twp. fire department in May. They say fire leadership knew about sexual assault allegations against Steve Schaefer, hired him anyway and then lied about what they knew. The department has denied knowing about those claims.

Mad River Twp. investigation report shows conflicting statements

Two people said they told Mad River Twp. Fire leadership that a person the department was considering hiring had been accused of sexual misconduct in another fire district.

Bethel Twp. Fire Chief Jacob King says he told Mad River Twp. fire officials before they hired Steven Schaefer that Schaefer was accused of sexual misconduct while working at the Bethel Twp. firehouse.

A woman who was employed by Mad River Twp. who was a victim of one of the alleged sexual misconduct incidents at Bethel Twp. says she also told Mad River Twp. fire leadership about the complaints before they hired Schaefer.

But he was hired at Mad River Twp. anyway.

That’s according to a consultant report detailing an investigation by Dublin-based Clemans Nelson & Associates Inc. into whether Mad River Twp. Fire Chief Tim Wendling and Assistant Fire Chief Jackie Ashworth knew about the sexual complaints filed on Feb. 21, 2017 in Bethel Twp. against former Mad River Twp. fire Lt. Steven Schaefer before they recommended his hiring in the spring of 2018.

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Schaefer has not been criminally charged in connection to the alleged misconduct. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said a criminal investigation that was launched in January is still ongoing. An attempt to contact Schaefer for this story was unsuccessful and he has previously declined to comment for related articles.

The comprehensive review by Clemans Nelson, a management consulting group, started in January after an investigation by this newsroom questioned whether fire officials knew about Schaefer’s alleged past.

Consultant’s report

The consultant report triggered a mass exodus of employees from Mad River Twp. Fire Department when it was presented to township officials on May 20.

The report details what King, the Bethel Twp. fire chief, told investigators.

“Chief King at Bethel Twp. stated he told Ashworth when she called prior to Schaefer’s hire that Schaefer was never going to be rehired and went on further to explain all three sexual complaints that had been filed against him…” the report says. “Chief King was given a polygraph … — with the investigator present — regarding the statements that he discussed Schaefer’s sexual complaints with Ashworth and passed with no indication of deception.”

Another section of the report describes when the victim allegedly spoke with Wendling about the previous assaults. The employee is referred to as “employee X” in the report.

“It should be noted that before Schaefer was hired, Employee X stated she came in to work one day and heard that administration was considering hiring Schaefer and approached Wendling in front of two witnesses and told him not to hire Schaefer because Schaefer had assaulted her at Bethel Twp.,” the report says. “She stated she had filed a complaint against him and he ended up resigning because of it. Employee X said she told Wendling that the Bethel Twp. incident was sexual misconduct, witnessed by others at Bethel Twp. who provided statements and that she was scared of Schaefer. Employee X and the witnesses all stated that Wendling ignored employee X saying ‘I don’t have time for this’ and ‘I don’t want to hear it.’”

The report says the employee’s hours were cut from 50 hours a month to less than 20 hours a month after Schaefer was hired. She eventually resigned from Mad River Twp. Fire Department and in her resignation letter said Schaefer was the reason for her leaving.

However, despite the assertions, Clemans Nelson didn’t find enough evidence to bring administrative charges against the leadership that would have potentially prompted a termination hearing. Ashworth and Wendling denied knowing about the sexual misconduct claims before hiring Schaefer.

“Wendling denies ever talking to Employee X, except with Ashworth when it was agreed to not schedule them together. Wendling stated many people talk to him in passing and he does not recall all conversations,” the investigation report says.

The investigation said Wendling and Ashworth passed a polygraph test, but took it without the investigator present despite a request for the investigator to be there.

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“While both Wendling and Ashworth were less than cooperative with respect to the polygraph, after receiving the results… in the investigator’s opinion there is not enough clarity in the investigation to file administrative charges under the statute and initiate removal proceedings,” the report says. “It should be pointed out that when the township trustees became aware of the allegations against Schaefer, he was removed from the department.”

King declined to comment when reached by the Springfield News-Sun this week. Wendling said his focus is now on leading the firehouse.

“What I will say, is that the polygraphs that Chief Ashworth and I took and passed, speaks for themselves,” he said. “The investigation has been completed. I am, and always have been, 100% committed to the successful operation of the fire department, now and in the future.”

The Clemans Nelson report also addresses complaints of a possible HIPPA violation and communications/ lying allegations. The report says there isn’t enough evidence to pursue either complaint, but there seem to be problems at the firehouse.

“The communication between ranks is lacking and seems combative when it exists,” the report says.

However, the majority of employees said that they feel the firehouse does serve the public well, the report says, and the issues arise between service calls and not during them.

The investigations ruling of no administrative charges prompted 12 experienced employees of the firehouse to resign. They included captains, lieutenants, crew leaders, paramedics and fire inspectors who made up up a large portion of the fire department’s staff. In total, they brought to the table about 200 years of combined experience.

Other employees at the firehouse resigned late last year in connection to the hiring of Schaefer.

Sexual misconduct allegations

The sexual misconduct complaints filed in Bethel Twp. were obtained by the Springfield News-Sun via a public records request.

12 employees have resigned from Mad River Twp. Fire and EMS

The first complaint alleges Schaefer forced a female co-worker to perform a sex act on him in late 2016. The second complaint accuses Schaefer of forcibly touching a different female co-worker in February 2017. The complaints were filed on Feb. 21, 2017, with Bethel Twp.

“In late 2016, an incident happened in our EMS room with Lt. Steve Schafer,” one of the complaints says. “He sent me out to the EMS room to grab some supplies and while I was there he came in the room with me. I asked him why did you send me out here if you were coming out here anyhow. He replied back with because you’re going to do something for me if you want out of here.”

The woman said Schafer forced himself onto her, saying that she told him no but didn’t think she had any other option. The woman said that she eventually was able to jump up and get away from the situation.

The other woman who filed a complaint said that on Feb. 17, 2017, Schaefer allegedly unhooked her bra through her shirt, touched her knee, hair, buttocks and between her legs.

“He grabbed my hair again and was pulling me around by my hair,” the complaint says. “He kept trying to get close to my neck. Blowing on it and trying to whisper close to me. I kept trying to pull away but couldn’t get very far with him with my hair. I finally got way, grabbed my pop off the ground and went to go back in. He followed me and stopped me from putting in the code and cornered me in the corner of the bunk room and entry door to (the) station. He grabbed at me again and I got the code entered and went straight into the radio room and stood next to (another man).”

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Schaefer resigned from his position at Bethel Twp. in March 2017, according to his resignation letter.

Fire department raises

Four days after the report was submitted and 10 employees instantly resigned at the Mad River Twp. trustee meeting followed by two more the next day, the trustees approved the hiring of 12 new employees. They also voted to give everyone at the firehouse a raise.

Mad River Twp. Fiscal Officer David Rudy told the Springfield News-Sun the new pay scale is between $12.75 for a level one firefighter and $16 for a paramedic. Former firehouse employees who resigned May 20 and their families who went to the meeting spoke up briefly to oppose the raises.

Mad River Twp. trustees Bob McClure and Kathy Estep spoke with the Springfield News-Sun after the meeting and said the pay increase was not out of vengeance.

They say it’s because of the good work the staff at the firehouse has been doing — especially since the mass exit.

“It’s not a punishment,” Estep said. “It should be an incentive to those people who have stayed and are doing a lot of work for us. They’ve put in a great deal of time and effort. We need to pay people appropriately.”

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