MOUNT VERNON — What started out as a 19-count indictment ended with two misdemeanor charges of falsification for Shawn Christy on Monday.
The former Mount Vernon fire chief pleaded guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor charges in court on Monday, a day ahead of his jury trial scheduled to start today. He admitted he took credit for EMS training classes he did not take or complete during an audit conducted by the Ohio Department of Public Safety in 2008 and again in 2011.
Christy was sentenced to a one-year probation term and a suspended jail sentence of 180 days. He paid restitution to the city of Mount Vernon for $5,194.52 for a bonus he received for carrying both a firefighter and EMS/paramedic card for a period of over two years.
The remaining 17 counts were dismissed after Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher was informed other Mount Vernon firefighters might have been given credit for classes they started but never completed.
“... discrepancies in EMS training records, other than Christy’s records, would not allow the State to prove these charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” Thatcher said.
Christy resigned from his position of authority on Aug. 19, 2011, after being placed on paid administrative leave on June 2, 2011, while Detective Craig Feeney, Mount Vernon Police Department, and P. Robert Broeren, assistant law director, investigated allegations regarding his emergency medical services credentials with the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
According to notification sent to Christy regarding a pre-disciplinary hearing in June 2011, he was told the city intended to “take an adverse action against your employment as chief of the City of Mount Vernon Fire Department based on evidence that you falsified records in order to fraudulently obtain continuing education credits for your paramedic certification. ... The evidence consists of, among other things, information from witnesses that you never attended certain courses you claim to have attended; documents that you appear to have forged; and discrepancies in the computerized records of paramedic certifications.”
The department of public safety would not renew Christy’s EMS certification while the investigation was ongoing. As of today, the EMS Board has yet to address the renewal of Christy’s credentials. However, Thatcher told the News he intends to send a copy of Monday’s sentencing to the board to revoke his certification and request “Christy’s certification will never be reinstated in Ohio.”
Some of the allegations against Christy questioned whether or not he attended the required training sessions needed for state recertification. Standard procedure at the department when Christy was in charge would have each firefighter sign in the training session. However, when personnel were needed to conduct medical or fire runs, the individuals would leave class without signing out.
Chief Christy was on paid administrative leave for 87 days.
Thatcher said he was told in cases like this, the firefighter had the opportunity to “remediate” with the instruction. This means the firefighter would discuss what was missed with the instructor, take the test and prove they are knowledgeable about the training information.
“Last week, I was informed not all personnel remediate,” Thatcher said.
When speaking with Fire Chief Chris Menapace on Thursday, Thatcher learned that on some occasions, firefighters would be given credit for classes that were not finished nor was there remediation.
After learning this from Menapace, Thatcher said he was provided the same information from defense counsel.
This information, Thatcher said, was damaging to his case.
“The issue is, is there other personnel who got credit for classes they didn’t full take,” Thatcher said. “It’s only possible because most firefighters get more (continuing education) hours than they really need. It is possible the training records don’t reflect the hours they actually took.”
Thatcher said the question then became, “Should we be prosecuting everybody else? [Christy’s] an extreme example, but where do you draw the line?”
In a letter to Safety-Service Director David Glass dated Aug. 15, 2011, Christy said the procedure the department used to keep track of who attended training classes was flawed and there was no way he could prove he attended classes.
“The problem is how it was documented,” Christy said. “... It is wrong and unfair for me, or any other department member, to be held accountable for the inconsistent method at which these trainings were conducted. ... It is absolutely critical for you to understand how these trainings work. They never start when they say they do. They always get interrupted causing it to get extended, cut short and even moved to a later time. ... I do not believe that I should be held accountable as a student for a flawed system of training documentation that has existed for many years. I am however accountable for the whole system as a chief officer and I take full responsibility for it.”
“It’s a breakdown in record keeping — its not a training issue,” Thatcher said “You have to have reliable records.”
In response to that, Thatcher suggested to Menapace that an internal audit be conducted regarding the EMS training records.
“I explained to the fire chief that the audit should be thorough and transparent, and that training records should be adjusted, if necessary,” Thatcher said in a letter to City Law Director Bill Smith acquired by the News through a public records request.
Thatcher also suggested that Menapace self report the issue to the Department of Public Safety, “to ensure the public’s faith in the integrity of the audit.”
The initial investigation report handed over to the prosecutor’s office was comprised of over 600 pages which included documents that showed Christy tampered with records of four training dates and that he forged the signature of a deceased EMS training coordinator on two occasions. The investigation also showed Christy presented training certificates to the Department of Public Safety that did not match the certificates that were presented to others in the same training class.