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Clearwater fire station employees suspended without pay for sexual relationship

Published Feb. 25, 2016

CLEARWATER — Two Fire & Rescue employees were suspended without pay this week after an investigation last month found they were having an inappropriate sexual relationship while on duty.

Lt. William Fry is on a monthlong suspension that began Tuesday for engaging in a sexual relationship with fire medic Tiffany Seabolt, his direct subordinate. On Friday, Seabolt will begin a 15-day suspension, according to a memo from human resources director Joseph Roseto.

"Your behavior caused a significant disruption within Station 49 and throughout Clearwater Fire/Rescue," Roseto wrote. "The significant negative publicity you generated by your actions has portrayed the city in a bad light."

As a result of the relationship, the latest in a string of sexual misconduct by Fire & Rescue employees in the past several years, City Manager Bill Horne said the staff is working on an overhaul of the fire department. Surveillance cameras will be installed on the outside and in common areas of each station to discourage unethical behavior; assistant chiefs will be required to make regular check-ins at each station; and revised policies and procedures have been drafted and are being reviewed by the fire union to more clearly define what is inappropriate conduct.

Horne said the department must also foster an environment to make employees feel comfortable reporting inappropriate behavior. In the investigation into Fry and Seabolt's relationship, several employees admitted feeling uncomfortable about what they witnessed, but only one reported the behavior to administration.

"We need a way of discouraging behavior that some employees are uncomfortable calling out on each other," Horne said. "If an assistant chief is showing up on a reoccurring basis, they can pull him aside and say, 'Hey, I need to say something about this.' "

The city began investigating Fry and Seabolt's relationship in August when driver operator Brian Swartz reported the allegations to Assistant Chief Danny Jones.

Both denied the relationship throughout the investigation, but co-workers reported "it was like living with a married couple" and observed "stress from them arguing," according to Roseto's report.

Investigators received a photo of Seabolt's car parked in Fry's driveway in the middle of the night in December along with two shirtless photos of Fry found on Seabolt's phone taken while he was her direct supervisor.

Seabolt's husband also provided the investigation copies of text messages between him and Fry arguing about the alleged affair.

While the city was investigating the relationship, Seabolt reported that over the past several years, Swartz had photographed her taking a shower at the station, would stand outside her dorm waiting for her to come out, and disclosed that he was in love with her.

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Human resources determined the allegations against Swartz to be unfounded, stating Seabolt and Fry "were making counter accusations to deflect the investigation into your inappropriate conduct." Both were assigned to separate stations Oct. 28.

Allegations of sexual misconduct by Clearwater fire department employees, both on and off the job, have plagued the department for years.

• Former fire Chief Jamie Geer was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for sexually abusing a teenager for nearly a decade, with at least one assault made while on duty.

• Lt. Jevon Graham was given a one-day suspension in June 2012 after a citizen contacted city administration to report an affair Graham had, and later admitted to, with the man's wife, according to an internal memo.

• Sean Becker, now the fire department's union president, was given a one-day unpaid suspension in September 2012 after he admitted to sending inappropriate text messages and photo of himself to fire medic Sarah Watson while on duty, according to his personnel file.

• In September 2014, then-Lt. Stephen Coward resigned after admitting to having sex with two women inside Fire Station 51, along with watching pornography on his phone while on duty.

• In March, Lt. Solomon Young resigned after being charged with lewd and lascivious offenses on a minor in Pasco County.

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.