Judge backs Bristol asst. chief

BRISTOL – Telling township trustees he is ready to go back to work, former Bristol assistant fire chief Stephen Craiger indicated he wants his job back following a court ruling in his favor.

Craiger told trustees at their Tuesday meeting that his attorney, Chip Comstock, notified him on Friday that Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan reversed a 2012 decision by trustees to remove him from his office.

”The court ruled I am to be reinstated immediately. I am ready to go back to work,” said Craiger, who has not worked with the department since January 2012.

Trustee Chairman Doug Seemann said trustees cannot comment or make a decision on the matter until advised by their legal counsel, attorney Mark Finamore. Seemann said there is a review period from the decision, as well as 30 days from the Feb. 12 ruling if trustees decide to appeal.

”We will do what he advises us to do,” Seemann said.

Craiger had filed an appeal on the trustees’ decision to terminate him for ”malfeasance, misconduct in office and neglect of duty”

The ruling by Logan indicated there was no evidence that Craiger was guilty of misconduct in office, gross neglect of duty or gross immorality.

Most of the claims against Craiger involved personal photos by other employees and him that were loaded onto the fire department computer. Craiger had testified that then-Chief Roger French was well aware of this and was in the room when this was taking place.

The court ruling indicated the matter became an issue after an ”inappropriate photograph” was uploaded on a department computer. While Craiger took photos of the installation of a sprinkler system in the pond on township property, one of the department volunteers ”mooned” the camera. That photo was among the group loaded onto the department computer.

”The court finds although this photograph was inappropriate and unnecessary, a simple request to delete the photograph from the department computer and potentially a reprimand for improper conduct would have been more prudent,” Logan’s ruling states. ”It is unreasonable and arbitrary to terminate the employment of an individual who merely was the unsuspecting photograph, not the participant.”

The ruling indicated the employees worked on the pond on their own time in an effort to move the department forward. They were not paid and not on township time.

Other concerns were about a video feed system installed on the department computers. Logan said no proof was found that the feed was enabled by Craiger nor that anyone was listening on private conversations.

Craiger indicated the video feed was installed to promote the department and that the chief knew about the technology and did not advise to discontinue it.

The third allegation was Craiger’s attendance at a Federal Emergency Management Agency meeting in Howland in June 2012 after being placed on administrative leave. Craiger attended the meeting wearing a shirt with a Bristol Fire Department logo on it and also signed in as the assistant chief.

Craiger said he attended the meeting on good faith to follow through with the FEMA funding for the new fire department building since he has been in charge of writing the grants and obtaining funding for the new fire station.

The court ruled ”this is evidence of his commitment to the fire department’s wellbeing, not an offense worthy of termination.”

Logan also question Trustee Ramon French’s involvement in proceeding since he is the brother of Roger French. The court ruled that involvement of Ramon French in the proceedings and questioning witnesses as to charges brought by his brother against Craiger ”is subject to extreme scrutiny due to the air of impropriety when such as close familial relationship is involved” and ”should be free from the appearance of impropriety.”

The court found ”there is no evidence of any instructions, orders of discipline meted by Chief French and then disregarded by Craiger” and that the all employees and volunteers had unrestricted access to at least the computer in the dispatch room and that everyone used the computers for their own personal use,including video chat.”

The court states that ”for nearly every charge against Craiger, Chief French had direct or implied knowledge and acquiesced to the activity.”