PTC assistant fire chief resigns after groping probe
A high-ranking official with the Peachtree City Fire Department has resigned following an internal investigation that she made inappropriate physical contact with three department personnel during the annual installation and awards dinner for the city’s volunteer firefighters association Jan. 28.
The investigation, authored by Decatur attorney Laurel Henderson, recommended that Assistant Fire Chief Peki Prince be disciplined for violating the department policy on “conduct unbecoming” which prohibits employees from engaging in activity while either on or off duty that harms the credibility of the department or the employee.
Prince, who was in charge of training for the fire department, was accused of grabbing the breasts of two female firefighters in the restroom, touching the breast of one of those same female firefighters in the dining room area in front of others during the dinner, and also for touching the genitals of a male firefighter.
The male firefighter, an unnamed sergeant, told the investigator that he had no memory of Prince touching him, and that there were no eyewitnesses to the incident. But the sergeant’s wife told Henderson that at one point her husband approached her at the party and specifically said, “I was molested. Chief Prince grabbed my crotch.”
One of the female firefighters said she felt Prince was joking with her when Prince grabbed her breasts in the restroom, and Henderson determined that the act occurred during “mutual and consensual joking.” Prince told Henderson that she and that firefighter were friends and had roomed together at several conferences.
The other female firefighter, who also reported that Prince grabbed her breasts, was distressed by the incident, though she didn’t think the act was intended to be malicious, Henderson wrote in her investigative report.
According to the report, Prince also was accused of approaching one of the female firefighters from behind at the dinner table and touching one of her breasts. Henderson concluded that incident had occurred and noted that it was witnessed by two different individuals.
Henderson wrote that during her interview, Prince never denied the actions of which she was accused, and Prince “seemed genuinely distressed about her behavior and also genuinely concerned about all three people involved.”
Prince told Henderson that she was intoxicated at the event and she had little memory of the specific events of the evening. Henderson’s report stated that Prince had two drinks prior to the event and another four at the dinner, while she also ate nothing because she felt nauseous.
Prince could not be contacted by press time Tuesday afternoon though a phone message was left seeking comment.
Henderson determined that she found no evidence that Prince’s conduct at the event “was other than an aberrational event by an inebriated supervisor.” There was no history of similar incidents in the report. None of the alleged incidents were sufficient to consider a violation of the city’s sexual harassment policy, Henderson said in the report.
Henderson also looked into reports that Prince and her only subordinate, Capt. Ron Mundy, were holding hands, sitting closely and dancing in a sexually suggestive manner at the party. Henderson noted that both Prince and Mundy denied they were in a personal intimate relationship, although in Henderson’s judgment “the line between supervisor and supervisee ... appears to have been crossed at the party.”
The alleged incidents were not reported to the city’s human resources department until Wednesday, Feb. 1, more than three full days after the party.
Prior to issuing her retirement notice March 6, Prince had been put on paid administrative leave Feb. 3, two days after the incidents were reported to the city, officials said. Prince will use her accrued leave time through her official retirement date of April 8, and she was not offered a severance package from the city, officials said.
The city has declined additional comment on the matter, citing a complaint that has been made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. No criminal charges have been filed in connection with any of the alleged incidents, city officials said.
Henderson interviewed some 38 fire department personnel in connection with the incident not including Prince. The event also included a number of life members who have retired from the department, members of the Peachtree City Rotary Club and their guests.
The annual event was held at the Flat Creek Country Club Jan. 28 and the dinner and social event were funded by the volunteer firefighter’s association and the Rotary Club, according to Henderson. The event included a cash bar that was administered by the country club under its liquor license.