Elgin firefighters disciplined for explicit photos, videos
An Elgin Fire Department lieutenant was demoted and two others also were disciplined after an investigation revealed they took explicit photos and videos of themselves and exchanged them while on duty, city officials said.
Lt. Amanda Bruce was demoted to firefighter, while firefighters John Sardina and Eric McMahon lost their special assignments, as driver and mechanic respectively, in agreements reached Tuesday between the employees, the International Association of Firefighters Local 439 and the city of Elgin, according to documents obtained by the Daily Herald via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The three received 20-day suspensions, and the city can terminate them if they display similar conduct in the next three years, the agreements state.
While on duty at Elgin fire stations, Bruce and Sardina took sexually oriented photos and videos of themselves, and McMahon took sexually oriented photos of himself, according to a Feb. 17 investigative report by the city's professional standards officer, also released via the FOIA.
All materials depict the firefighters alone. Sardina and McMahon sent their own images to Bruce, and she sent her images to Sardina and an unnamed "boyfriend," the report states. The photos and videos are from 2009 through 2013.
Fire Chief John Fahy said the employees "have fully taken responsibility" for their actions. "They never denied it and wanted to make amends for the misconduct that happened on duty a few years back," Fahy said.
Local 439 President Vince Rychtanek declined to comment, saying, "If an agreement was signed, it was confidential."
The Daily Herald submitted its FOIA request March 10. City officials asked for a five-day extension that would have run out Thursday.
The timing of the disciplinary settlement was unrelated to the FOIA request, Fahy said.
"This was in the pipeline," he said. "The extension was to release a complete package, because we were in negotiations with the employees and we were coming to the conclusion with the discipline."
The materials include videos of Bruce in a fire station's women's bathroom and photos in various states of undress, the report states. Bruce told city officials she was on duty when she used her cellphone to take the photos and videos, and sent them using her personal email.
Sardina's photos include some taken in fire station bathrooms; the video depicts him in his fire station bunk. In one photo, Sardina is coming out of a fire station shower with a towel around his waist; Bruce told city officials she took the photo, the report states.
McMahon's selfies include some taken in the bathroom of Elgin fire stations, the report states.
Fahy said the matter surfaced nearly two years ago when Elgin Fire Battalion Chief Terrence Bruce reported to an assistant chief his then-wife Amanda had engaged in misconduct involving Sardina and McMahon, Fahy said.
The city asked Terry Bruce to bring in evidence of the allegations but then realized he couldn't be compelled to do that and returned the evidence to him, City Manager Sean Stegall said.
Fahy said he spoke with Amanda Bruce, Sardina and McMahon at the time. "I said, 'If the allegation is true, I want you to know that behavior has to stop, and it can never happen again,'" Fahy said.
The city obtained the evidence a few months later, after Amanda Bruce told Elgin police her then-husband "had gained unauthorized and possibly illegal access to certain personal information" including videos and photos. She made a police report in October 2014 saying Terry Bruce gave the materials to an attorney who served as a guardian ad litem for their children in divorce proceedings, the report states.
Elgin police obtained a copy of the materials from the attorney and conducted a criminal investigation that ended in April 2015, when the Kane County state's attorney's office determined criminal charges would not be pursued, the report states.
Amanda Bruce, Terry Bruce, Sardina and McMahon could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
An administrative investigation was launched in May 2015 to find out if any of the misconduct took place while on duty, the report states.
The lengthy process involved hiring a company to extract time and date stamps from the photos and videos, and comparing those to staffing records, Fahy said. "We were not in a hurry. We wanted to get this right."
Amanda Bruce, Sardina and McMahon were interrogated as part of the administrative investigation in December 2015 and had an official meeting with Fahy last week.
Fahy said he initially wanted to fire the three employees for the on-duty misconduct but changed his mind.
"These are three good employees with stellar records, and they had a bad day," he said. "My decision to discipline them instead of termination is appropriate."
The line between work and home can get blurred for firefighters, Fahy explained. "Firefighters at times, because they live in the fire station, they lose that vision."