July 16, 2011

Sex offender named interim Morriston fire chief

7-16-2011 Missouri:

A dispute at a recent Morriston Volunteer Fire Department meeting led to a vote to remove Chief Curtis Raines and his wife, Angie, from the board of directors and dismiss them as firefighters.

That decision stunned many area firefighters, because of the Raines' dedication to developing training programs, which have allowed firefighters at all area departments to receive required training in the county, as opposed to traveling to other counties.

In addition, the Morriston VFD Board decision to elevate Captain Marshall Armstead to interim chief shocked many in the firefighting community, because Armstead is a convicted sex offender, required to register with the state sex offender registry.

"I don't feel comfortable having Marshall Armstead as chief," said a Morriston Fire Department member, who called The News the day after the leadership shakeup.

The problems arose at a Morriston Fire Department board meeting on Tuesday, July 5, when Captain Armstead criticized Chief Raines, who had served as chief for more than two years, for failing to remove an unsafe tanker truck from service.

According to three board members who were at the meeting, Armstead claimed he told Raines in March that a broken leaf spring in a tanker truck made it dangerous to drive.

Raines denied knowledge of the problem and asked Armstead why he had not immediately removed the truck from service himself.

Board President Al Poole joined the discussion, claiming Raines had placed firefighters in danger by allowing an unsafe vehicle to operate since March.

Raines left the meeting in frustration saying, "I'm done. I'm resigning as chief."

Poole then turned his attention to Angie Raines saying, as safety officer, she failed to do her job, since an unsafe truck remained in use.

As Poole asked for a motion to remove the Raines' as board members, Angie Raines also left the meeting, and a board vote removed the Raines' as board members and firefighters.

The board then choose Armstead to serve as interim chief.

"This has been building up for some time," said board chairman Poole. "The Raines' did a great job on training but, in day to day operations of the department, there were problems. Curtis has no people skills. He doesn't deal with people well."

Had the board notified the chief of shortcomings they felt needed to be corrected?

"Not in writing," Poole replied.

"We were stunned," said Angie Raines, about the meeting. "We were never warned (of problems), never written up, never given a "talking to."

Raines added, "It (the board meeting) was obviously all planned to get rid of us. We would not knowingly leave an unsafe vehicle in service. Safety is everyone's shared responsibility. If we were at fault, Marshall was just as wrong, because he supposedly knew about the problem since March and did nothing. What was his punishment?"

Did the fire department board go into its meeting knowing it was going to fire Curtis Raines as chief?

"We were going to take a vote," said Poole, who admitted Raines had not been informed his job performance was on the agenda.

"To me, it was a little extreme (removing the Raines' from the board and terminating them as firefighters)," said Armstead. "But I'm just the Secretary with one vote and it was a group decision." Armstead claimed he thought Raines was just going "to get a good chewing out" and denied orchestrating a plan to make him chief.

As for making Armstead interim chief, Poole said, "We decided to give some probation time to see if he could do the job. See how it will play out. I knew there was going to be trouble over this."

While others have raised the issue of a sexual offender serving as chief, Poole added, "He (Armstead) has benefited this community for 14 years (as a firefighter). I support him, and I'm a law and order person. I support Marshall in this case because I know him. He made a mistake and has worked to make sure it never happens again."

Records at the Arkansas Crime Information Center indicate that Armstead was convicted of two counts of rape and one count of sexual abuse.

"I was arrested in 1994 and pleaded guilty in 1995," said Armstead, who confirmed the charges involved two young women.

According to Armstead, he was first classified a level two sexual offender, an offender with a moderate risk of reoffending.

Between 2002 and 2007, Armstead was classified as a level three offender, an offender with a high risk of reoffending.

Armstead said his classification was raised because he failed to register and verify his address and other information, as required by law.

When allowed to request a new assessment after five years, Armstead's classification was dropped back to a level two.

"I have been a volunteer firefighter for 14 years with no problems," said Armstead. "I don't try to hide the fact I am a convicted felon and a sex offender, but I don't see it as an issue as far as serving as chief. There is no law that says I can't serve. I made a mistake 17 years ago and I paid the price for it. I have tried to be a better person and serving the community is one way I am doing that."

A long time firefighter from another department has mixed feelings about Armstead's appointment as chief.

"I believe in second chances," the firefighter said, "but what family will feel comfortable if their daughter or wife needed medical care and the first responder who arrives is a convicted sex offender?"

Angie Raines said she and her husband were aware of Armstead's sexual offender status and tried to make sure department policy, requiring two members to be present for a first responder run, was always followed.

That prevented Armstead from being alone with a victim or family members during an emergency run.

As word spread of their termination, Assistant Chief Troy Decker resigned from the department.

In addition, the Raines received many calls of support from area firefighters, some raising the question of whether a registered sex offender should serve as a fire chief.

"I am not going to question Marshall's right to be chief," said Raines. "I believe in second chances."

Disbelief was the response from Paula Stitz, who operates the Arkansas Sex Offender Registry, when informed one of her offenders had been appointed fire chief.

Stitz said it was very unusual for a sexual offender to seek a position of authority, which might put him in the public spotlight.

Rather than question whether a sexual offender should be a fire chief, Stitz said she would, generally, question whether an offender should be on a department at all.

According to Stitz, a firefighter goes into homes, as a first responder, where he could encounter temptation to reoffend, as he interacts and deals with members of the public.

While it might be commendable, that a sexual offender would seek training to help the community as a volunteer firefighter, Stitz said not serving in such a position would be "part of suffering the consequences" for sexual abuse convictions.

After a week of turmoil at the Morriston Fire Department, Marshall Armstead is looking to the future.

"We have already gained back two firefighters who left while Curtis was chief," Armstead said. "I will continue to offer training classes, and am going to Camden for two weeks to attend classes to become a certified instructor who can teach academy level classes."

Armstead expressed hope that the Raines may one day return as instructors adding, "They (the Raines) have done a good job, a great job. They brought this department up, from waist high to above head level. I wish them the best."

Board Chairman Poole said the board is instituting a new safety policy in which, each month, one department vehicle will be taken to a repair shop for a complete inspection and maintenance.

Because he admitted to the possibility that some board members may not have known of Armstead's criminal conviction when they chose him as chief, Board President Poole held a special board meeting on Sunday, July 10.

At the meeting, Armstead spoke to the board, including two new members who replaced the Raines, and Armstead's selection of Chief was unanimously upheld.

Poole added, at the next board meeting, he will ask for a vote of confidence.

"I have been on this department for 21 years. I am 73 years old. If anyone else thinks they can do a better job, they are welcome to take my place."

The Raines say they have received offers to join other area fire departments, but plan to take a break from the fire service for now. ..Source.. by Richard Irby, Staff Writer

1 comment:

Chance said...

Am I the only one who thinks it's ridiculous to make assumptions that a person in that position, in an emergency situation, would be more compelled to re-offend while a home is burning down around them and a so-called potential victim than just do the job they've had no issue performing for years?

And not serving in such a position would be "part of suffering the consequences"? Now we're proposing arbitrary and assumed consequences above and beyond legal ones?