Lawsuit cites sex, videotape and firehouse

Ex-chief alleges incident sparked downfall


ENGLEWOOD -- An incident in which several Englewood firefighters looked the other way to allow a man to film a partially nude woman posing with a firetruck four years ago is continuing to haunt the district.

Former Englewood Area Fire Control District Deputy Chief James Stuckey, in a lawsuit against the current chief, Michael Bonakoske, and Assistant Chief Kirk Gaskell, claims he was targeted for retribution after he reported the videotape incident to his superiors in October 2002.

The suit comes seven months after Stuckey, who has worked for the district for more than 20 years, was demoted to firefighter. The suit, which seeks $15,000 in damages, accuses the two top chiefs of defamation of character and job interference.

Bonakoske declined comment on the lawsuit Friday "on the advice of counsel."

"Mr. Stuckey is a disgruntled employee who does not agree with some disciplinary actions that were taken," said Todd Smayda, attorney for the fire district, in an interview this week. "We take the allegations very seriously and we'll defend them vigorously."

Bonakoske, in a memo placed in Stuckey's personnel file, said Stuckey was demoted due to a series of "poor decisions" dating back to November 2001. No decision stemming from the videotape incident was mentioned.

"You continue to demonstrate an inability to make sound decisions on behalf of the district," wrote Bonakoske in that June 2003 memo. "I have decided to demote you to a firefighter position and relieve you of all management decisions."

Hired as a captain by the fire district in 1983, Stuckey worked his way up to district chief, which amounts to a field operations chief.

In October 2002, a fire lieutenant showed Stuckey a videotape that had been recorded off the Playboy Channel. The clip showed a partially nude woman.

"I watched a female take off all of her clothes, next to and on a firetruck," Stuckey wrote in a statement to Gaskell at the time.

Stuckey said the firetruck was identified as Englewood's No. 137 and the film appeared to have been shot in Station 1's bay at 599 S. Indiana Ave.

"Unequivocally, no firefighter was involved in the making of any pornographic videotape," said Smayda.

However, internal investigation reports revealed that a man and a woman had approached three firefighters at the station two years before the tape surfaced, in 2000. The couple had asked for permission to film the woman with the truck.

The firefighters told the couple they could not authorize the use of a firetruck.

"He kept asking multiple times for permission, for which we denied each time," said Fire Lt. Ray Bauer, in an internal investigation statement. "The man then asked that since the station was public property, could he do so without our permission. We continued to inform the man that there could be no permission given, but if he wanted the responsibility, that was his choice.

"The shoot lasted approximately 30 seconds and they left," Bauer stated.

Stuckey, in a written statement at the time, said he immediately began questioning subordinates about the videotape. He also reported its existence to Gaskell and handed the tape to Gaskell.

However, Gaskell, in an Oct. 11 memo, stated he had "become concerned with the handling of the incident by District Chief Stuckey."

Gaskell complained that Stuckey "spoke with several subordinates" about the tape. Gaskell cited a "need to reinforce the need for confidentiality."

"The disturbing part ... is that he spoke with the union representative," Gaskell wrote. "The investigation and fair process of the individuals involved has been compromised."

Stuckey's file also contains a Nov. 30, 2001, reprimand citing "poor decisions." The decisions include inviting "every on-duty firefighter" to a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving at fire headquarters.

That left the southern area of the district without coverage, according to Bonakoske.

Dee Hawkins, Englewood fire district board member and spokeswoman for Charlotte County Fire & EMS, declined comment.


By GREG MARTIN

Staff Writer