Fired Delray Beach, FL, Fire Chief's Lawyer Says: "This is not the End"

May 4, 2024
Chief Keith Tomey was fired after he allegedly paid three firefighters overtime to play in a charity softball game.

The Delray Beach Fire Rescue chief has been fired for misconduct after he allowed firefighters to play in a charity softball game, according to the city’s termination letter.

As of Thursday, Keith Tomey was fired and replaced by interim fire rescue chief Kevin Green. The decision, detailed by City Manager Terrence Moore in a letter, comes after an investigation initiated by Moore into a softball game on Nov. 4.

In the letter, Moore writes Tomey paid overtime to three on-duty firefighters for playing in the annual Guns ‘N Hoses charity softball event, one of whom was injured while playing. A fire engine also was taken out of service for about four hours during the game to allow the firefighters to play.

Christopher Bentley, an attorney who works for the firm Johnson Jackson PLLC, conducted the investigation at the request of the city.

“Time is of the essence in firefighting operations, and any delay in Fire Rescue’s response can have profound consequences,” Bentley wrote in a report. “Longer response times increase the risk of fires spreading, intensifying, and causing greater damage to property and endangering lives. Additionally, delays in reaching medical emergencies may result in worsened patient outcomes.”

In his termination letter, Moore wrote he “couldn’t agree more” with Bentley’s statements.

“Removing an engine from service … was a deliberate violation of the reasonable standards that I expect from you as someone in charge of public safety. Your poor decision making could have endangered the lives of our residents and the public and created a risk of liability to the City,” Moore wrote.

In a response to the investigation, Tomey wrote to the city attorney that Bentley’s “opinions unjustly attack my leadership and decision making without merit, and call into question the genesis of (the) investigation.”

Tomey also questioned the investigation’s “fairness and impartiality,” adding: “It is upsetting and dangerous that these reckless accusations are in a public record because they are patently false and could cause irreparable harm to the public trust.”

There were other concerns raised. Beyond the softball game, Moore also referred to other events in the termination letter, including:

  • A car accident Tomey was in with his city car in 2022 that led to a five-day suspension without pay because Tomey did not tell Moore about the accident or submit a required drug test until three days after it happened.
  • Tomey’s distribution of a memo that revealed the medical condition of one of his employees, which led to the employee alleging Tomey “defamed and invaded (their) privacy” and led to the city paying $25,000 to settle the claim.

Tomey’s lawyer, Isidro Garcia, of Garcia Labor Law, said “this is not the end,” and they “will be seeking redress,” the goal of which is to take the case to a trial.

“Part of having a successful fire and police service is having good relations with the community,” he said. “These events, such as the softball game or anything else, build good community relations.”

Making recommendations

Bentley wrote his “investigation did not discover a violation of a specific City policy.” Rather, he said he presented concerns about Tomey being “cavalier” about how the fire rescue department addresses overtime.

Bentley recommended the Fire Rescue department work closely with the city’s human resources department, the office of the city attorney and the city manager “when navigating the various challenges that may arise in the workplace.”

“Based on my witness interviews, I strongly believe that Fire Rescue would benefit from having a close partnership with these other departments to ensure compliance with City policy and procedure,” Bentley wrote.

Moore wrote Tomey refused to take any responsibility for his actions, causing Moore to question Tomey’s “leadership and managerial abilities.”

Tomey’s actions during the November softball game “eroded not only the public’s trust but mine as well,” Moore wrote.

A separate investigation

On Tuesday, the City Commission held a special meeting to discuss the findings of another investigation, this one involving Tomey’s accusations against Moore.

During the meeting, attorney Brooke Ehrlich, who was enlisted for help by the city, said she conducted an investigation and was “unable to prove or deny the truth of that allegation” in which Tomey had accused Moore of touching him inappropriately in drives to and from the Arts Garage in August 2022.

The two investigations were not related in any way, city spokeswoman Gina Carter said.

Because the first investigation, which involved the November softball game, concluded as the second investigation began looking into Tomey’s accusations, the termination had to wait, Carter said.

Garcia disagrees.

“The timing is so exquisitely tied together,” he said.

Moore initiated an investigation into Tomey regarding the softball game at the end of February, and that investigation ended on March 27, only about one week after the City Commission approved a special investigation into Tomey’s allegations about Moore, which came in the form of an email sent on Tomey’s behalf to the City Commission on March 15, according to records from the city.

Ehrlich said Tomey also alleged Moore objected to Tomey promoting an employee to division chief of logistics within the fire department as a way to “harass” Tomey.

Ehrlich then said Tomey alleged the five-day suspension without pay from the car accident was “retaliatory” because of Moore’s objection to what had happened in the car to and from the Arts Garage, Ehrlich said.

Tomey then alleged Moore’s investigation into the softball game also was retaliatory, she said.

Ehrlich said she did not find any evidence to support those allegations.

In response to the investigation into Tomey’s allegations, Mayor Tom Carney said in a statement that Delray Beach “prioritizes the well-being of its employees and takes all allegations seriously.”

He said, “after a thorough investigation no wrongdoings were uncovered. We remain committed to a safe and respectful work environment for all employees by holding employees accountable for their actions, irrespective of their position or tenure.”

In an interview with the Sun Sentinel, Moore said the materials speak for themselves.

“My focus and energy is likewise committed to the good work that lies ahead for the City of Delray Beach,” he said.

©2024 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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