ATLANTIC CITY - The city firefighter accused of inviting teenage girls into a fire station more than a year ago and having them perform sexual acts has been fired, after a ruling in an administrative hearing.
But the firefighter's attorney says the city violated his client's rights, and he is confident the "defamed" firefighter will be exonerated.
Richard Williams Jr. was accused last summer of inviting four females - including a 19-year-old and two 16-year-olds - into Fire Station 2 in May 2009 for pizza. Inside the station, at Indiana and Baltic avenues, the two 16-year-olds alleged in a lawsuit that they touched Williams' genitals and he sexually gratified himself in front of them.
After conducting an investigation, Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said Williams would not be charged criminally because the girls were of the age of consent and there was no official misconduct because Williams had not met the girls as part of his official duties. Then-Attorney General Anne Milgram agreed with the decision, but Mayor Lorenzo Langford did not.
The two captains on that night, along with the firefighter who was supposed to be monitoring the station, were disciplined, but a Superior Court judge dismissed that case, saying the city violated the men's right to due process.
Williams was put on unpaid administrative leave Sept. 15, 2009, but didn't have an administrative hearing until April 21. A decision was rendered nearly four months later.
"Sometimes the hearing officers get backed up," the city's labor attorney, Steven Glickman, said of the time frame. He said the officer is pretty much an independent contractor for the city and also works as an arbitrator.
Williams' attorney said he was not surprised by the decision.
"We fully anticipated that he would be terminated at the local hearing level," Joseph Levin said. "The mayor and his administration who rushed to judgment and concluded that there was wrongdoing with no evidence are the ones who appointed the hearing officer, paid the hearing officer and scheduled the hearing in the city. We knew that we would not prevail at this level."
Langford "believes that everything was done fairly," the mayor's spokesman, Kevin Hall, said Thursday. He referred any further comment to Glickman.
"Obviously, we deny ‘the fix was in,'" Glickman said. "That same hearing officer, in other disciplinary cases, has dismissed the charges."
But Levin said he instead used the hearing to gather evidence for a possible trial outside the city.
"Through the process, we have learned that the four complainants have told four completely different stories," he said.
Levin has appealed the decision and papers are being filed with the Office of Administrative Law.
"We're just going to wait for the next level," Glickman said.
"I'm extremely confident that we will win at the next level," Levin said. "Although I rarely use the word win, I'm confident we're going to win and Firefighter Williams will be exonerated."
"I'm extremely upset that this is being played out in public," Levin said Thursday. "These false allegations are damaging to Firefighter Williams, and we're going to seek legal redress after we win this case. He's essentially being defamed without evidence."
Williams was suspended without pay more than a year ago. A termination notice was mailed to Williams on Sept. 10, but such papers have to be delivered in person, which was not done until Wednesday, Levin confirmed.
Glickman said he knows the papers went out signed by all the proper parties, but that he didn't know when or how they were received.
Since a suspension cannot last more than 180 days, Glickman said the city had been in the process of putting Williams back on its payroll, but the decision stopped that.
"We considered him terminated retroactively," Glickman said.
Levin disagreed with that determination.
In December, Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong dismissed administrative charges against three other firefighters - including two captains - who were disciplined for being in the station when the incident allegedly took place. The city "seriously violated" their rights to due process, Armstrong said at the time.
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