Man says chief, others lied to police about him

JANESVILLE

A former Janesville Fire Department employee alleges the fire chief and other fire department employees lied to police that he “might be mentally unstable and dangerous,” according to complaints filed with the Janesville Police and Fire Commission.

The former employee, Donald “Jeff” Bowen, has filed three charges of malfeasance in public office against Fire Chief Randy Banker and one each against Lt. Paul VerHalen and Fire Marshal Sue North.

The commission will address the charges behind closed doors at 4:30 p.m. today.

Banker and other city officials said Friday they could not comment on the complaints.

Bowen was a Janesville fire inspector from April 2015 to April 2017. Throughout 2015, Bowen grew frustrated with Banker’s management practices. Frustration peaked in February 2017 after a disciplinary hearing Bowen thought was unfair, according to the complaints.

Bowen submitted a resignation letter a few days later, but he stayed on staff for at least another two months until a replacement could be hired, according to the complaints.

After leaving, Bowen continued to volunteer as an associate adviser for Janesville Fire Department Explorer Post 555.

The post is a joint effort between the Janesville Fire Department and Boy Scouts of America. The post allows young adults to explore career opportunities in firefighting and emergency medical services, according to the complaints.

On about Aug. 10, Banker learned Bowen still had ties to the Janesville Fire Department through the post and told VerHalen to have Bowen removed, according to the complaints.

VerHalen called post adviser Cathy Erdman and said Bowen needed to be removed because Banker didn’t like what Bowen had said during his exit interview with City Manager Mark Freitag, according to Erdman’s notes within the complaints.

Erdman expressed disapproval with VerHalen’s request and didn’t follow through. On Aug. 28, VerHalen called Bowen himself and told him he was no longer on the post, according to a police report.

According to the complaints, VerHalen’s reason for kicking Bowen off the post had changed from Banker’s disapproval of Bowen’s exit interview comments to complaints the fire department had received that Bowen and the post had damaged a dunk tank at National Night Out.

On Aug. 30, Banker contacted Janesville police and “falsely asserted that Bowen might be mentally unstable and dangerous” and “knowingly mischaracterized Bowen’s work record,” the complaints read.

According to the police report, Bowen had continued to pursue involvement in the explorer post after being told not to. Banker and other fire department employees had concerns with Bowen’s actions leading up to the report being filed, according the police report.

Banker and North showed police an email and personal note, both more than a year old at the time. In the email, Bowen apologized for being irritated at work in June 2016. In the note, Bowen’s wife, Sandy, told Erdman she was frustrated with Bowen at home, noting that he’s like a “landmine around here,” according to the complaints.

Banker and North also said Bowen had left the fire department on bad terms, according to the complaints. However, Bowen staying on staff after submitting his resignation letter until a replacement could be found “is not consistent with the assertion that Bowen was increasingly confrontational, angry and disgruntled or that he left the JFD ‘on bad terms,’” according to the complaints.

Police investigated and found Bowen wasn’t a danger to himself or others, according to the police report.

“Chief Banker’s actions caused harm to this citizen volunteer by involuntarily removing him from an activity he enjoyed participating in,” the complaints read. “Chief Banker’s dishonesty in this matter discredited both the office he holds and the organization he leads.”

The complaints also allege VerHalen and North both knowingly helped Banker with creating the false assertion and “provided inaccurate and demonstrably false information” to Janesville police.

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