After nearly 10 hours of testimony Wednesday, members of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission upheld seven counts of duty misconduct used to fire a Milwaukee Fire Department lieutenant in January.
Lt. James Nelson’s firing stemmed from an incident in which another firefighter, Lt. Sean Moore, while on duty, performed a lewd act in front of a computer camera as colleagues at a different firehouse watched, a Fire Department report says. Moore admitted performing the act but says he was enticed by the others posing online as women, the report says.
The commission will reconvene Tuesday morning to determine if the severity of Nelson’s punishment termination should be upheld.
In addition to Nelson and Moore, heavy equipment operator Eric W. Kentowski and firefighters Matthew A. Palmer, Mark W. Zalewski and John P. Fisher were fired in connection with the incident. All the men have appealed the firings.
Nelson testified that he heard rumors that a friend of firefighter Zalewski’s wife had seen an individual dressed in a Milwaukee Fire Department shirt on a computer camera “talking dirty and threatening to expose himself.”
After speculating with other firefighters about the identity of the individual, Nelson decided to find out for himself.
He went to the chat room where he heard the individual could be found and accepted a Webcam invitation, he said. An image of Moore wearing only a Milwaukee Fire Department shirt appeared onscreen and a sex act was performed.
“Everyone was in total disbelief,” he testified. “I remember saying, Cover that up,’ and Kentowski grabbed a piece of paper and covered the screen.”
In addition to himself and Kentowski, Nelson said firefighters Fisher and Palmer were also in the room.
Nelson said he waited until he returned from vacation Dec. 8 to report the incident because he had “a lot of things on my mind.”
“I don’t know if that was live,” he said of the Webcam image. “I didn’t know if he was at work or not. The biggest thing by far is that it would probably be career ending for him.”
The hearing from 1 to 11:30 p.m. included testimony from Fire Chief William Wentlandt; Greg Gracz, president of the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Local 215; a forensic specialist; Nelson; and others.
During his two-hour testimony, Wentlandt said Nelson had violated several departmental guidelines, including those governing conduct and the computer-use policy.
Nelson’s attorney, John Fuchs, acknowledged his client had done some wrong but said Nelson had not committed the actions the department alleged.
Douglass Elrich, director of forensic service for Digital Intelligence, read from transcripts of the sexually explicit chat between Moore and up to three different screen names. He also said Nelson’s computer, which he initially refused to turn over, according to the Fire Department’s report, yielded little information because the system had been completely cleaned and reinstalled.
Nelson testified that he deleted files to keep his children from finding them and that his sister cleared the machine’s hard drive on her own after he gave her the computer as a gift.