A veteran Los Angeles fireman who was found guilty of slapping the buttocks and trying to touch the breasts of a woman firefighter while on duty at a Westchester fire station was suspended for five months without pay Monday.
Fire Chief Donald O. Manning concurred with the departmental board of rights in the recommended penalty for Anthony E. Morales, 33, for his misconduct against Sharyl Plebuch Seward last year.
Citing a disregard for the trust placed in him, the three-member board reprimanded Morales and recommended that his suspension date from mid-October, when he was relieved from duty pending a hearing. The board also called on Manning to formally reprimand Morales.
Possible punishment for the offenses included termination.
"You have not only compromised, but (you) have totally disregarded, the trust placed in you by this department and the citizens of Los Angeles," the board said.
Seward testified during the board's lengthy hearing that Morales deliberately appeared in the nude before her, attempted to kiss her and intentionally put his finger in her mouth--charges on which he was found not guilty last week.
However, Morales was found guilty of six other misconduct charges, all involving Seward, except one relating to attempts to make a social contact with a woman he met while on Fire Department business.
The degree of Morales' recommended punishment drew immediate criticism from Seward.
"I'm extremely disappointed in the outcome," Seward told The Times. "I think overall he has given the department a black eye that's going to take years to mend."
Seward, who is now assigned to Fire Station 53, said the events of the last year had taken a "heavy toll" on her.
"It is emotionally very, very trying and very devastating to have to go through," she said. "When this came up today, it shook me up. It upset me."
But despite her troubles, Seward said, she is determined to stay on the job.
"I want a career here," she said. "I want to stay for 30 years. I just want to fit in. I just want to be a firefighter. I like the job."
Seward was completing the final weeks of a year's probation early last year when, she testified, she was sexually harassed by Morales. She did not file a complaint against him. She told the board that she tried to solve the problem herself by confronting Morales.
Investigators for the Fire Department discovered Seward's troubles with Morales while probing the complaint by paramedic Lynn McKay Roth that sexually explicit materials had been shown at Station 5, where she worked.
The president of the City Fire Commission, Harold Kwalwasser, declared last week that he wanted all such material out of the city's fire stations.