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Thursday, March 15, 2018 12:06 am

Pack gun, get promoted

Captain set to advance

A Springfield fire captain who served a six-day suspension last year and agreed to counseling in 2015 is in line to become a battalion chief.

Capt. Chad Bates is on the promotion list even though he was suspended for six days last year after bringing a gun into a firehouse. In addition, Bates in 2015 agreed to counseling after the department found he had falsely told police that his ex-wife’s husband had slashed his tires. Despite bringing a gun to work and fibbing to cops, Bates as recently as last fall was allowed to act as a battalion chief by the department while the city’s civil service commission worked to ensure that he couldn’t be promoted to the job.

Bates has been the subject of two requests for protection orders, both filed by his ex-wife’s husband. In the first request, filed in the spring of 2015, the ex-wife’s husband alleged that the captain had threatened him and made obscene gestures. He also said that his car had been vandalized. In December of 2015, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Maurer continued the matter, decreeing that it would be dismissed in six months if there were “no acts of misconduct” by Bates.

Less than a month after the ex-wife’s husband asked for the protective order, Bates told police that his tires were slashed – according to city files, the suspect was the ex-wife’s husband, who is a physician. Authorities determined that the report was phony after the physician pointed out that an estimate for repairs submitted to police by the captain was dated three days before the day Bates had alleged that the damage had occurred. In addition, Bates had submitted an insurance claim stating that the damage had occurred earlier than he’d claimed in his police report. Bates presented police with a second estimate from a repair shop owned by a fire department employee, but the shop owner told police that the shop had provided no such estimate.

“I am using every legal means necessary to get the truth and expose (Bates) for who he is, a sociopath,” the physician wrote in an email to the city human resources director, after he’d pointed out that the estimate was dated before the damage allegedly occurred. “(Bates) uses lies, manipulation and any dangerous means necessary to intimidate those who are unfortunate enough to have some interaction with him. In my case, I’ve never met the man.”

Maurer threw out a second request for a protective order from the ex-wife’s husband, saying there was insufficient evidence. But the state’s attorney’s office sent Bates a cease-and-desist letter, warning the captain that any future false police reports could result in criminal charges.

Officially, at least, the city didn’t discipline Bates, although the department determined that the captain had falsely reported to police that his ex-wife’s husband had slashed his tires, according to city disciplinary records. The captain admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to undergo counseling for one year, with his therapist sending monthly progress reports to the city’s human resources department.

Bates landed in trouble again last spring, four months after he brought a gun into a firehouse. A co-worker found the pistol in a kitchen in January of last year, but the incident didn’t come to light until April, when Battalion Chief Eric Helms reported it to another battalion chief after overhearing a conversation in the firehouse.

Bates admitted that he erred in bringing the gun to work, where no firearms are allowed. He said that he needed the gun because he was worried about his ex-wife’s husband.

“Her new husband has really attempted to harm me in every way possible,” Bates wrote in a memo to Battalion Chief Mike Bartletti. “Over the years, I have grown very cautious about my safety and the safety of my children.”

Bates and the city agreed to a six-day suspension, with the captain ordered to see a specialist to determine whether he was fit for duty. At the time, Bates was on track for promotion, and the city did nothing to stop the process, which included a written test that the captain and other candidates for battalion chief took 16 days after Bates agreed to a suspension.

The civil service commission, citing Bates’ disciplinary record, removed the captain from the promotion list in September. Bates sued, arguing that it was too late: If the city didn’t want him to be a battalion chief, it should have barred promotion as part of a disciplinary process that has run its course. In a court motion, Don Craven, Bates’ lawyer, wrote the commission’s move was “inconsistent” with the actions of the fire department, which allowed Bates to act as a battalion chief last October, after the commission had removed the captain from the promotion list. A battalion chief is the third-highest officer in the department and runs the department with the chief and four deputy chiefs are not available.

Fire chief Barry Helmerichs said that captains routinely act as battalion chiefs. “Captains do it on a daily, weekly basis,” Helmerichs said.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Madonia last month ruled in Bates’ favor, saying that the commission can’t block promotion due to his disciplinary record. Bates ranks second on the battalion chief promotion list. Given recent staff departures that include the retirements of Helmerichs, two deputy chiefs and two battalion chiefs, Bates could soon find himself with a bigger paycheck and more responsibility.

Helmerichs said he has confidence in Bates, “as I do all my people.”

“He’s been a good firefighter,” the chief said. “I’ve known him for a long time.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at
brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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