Police in South Carolina looked for crimes in Columbia firefighters’ sexual pranks, department says

By David Travis Bland

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia police considered criminal charges after city officials investigated an “over-sexed culture” at one fire station that included shower butt-slapping, wedgies, an “overwhelming infatuation” with comparing male genitalia and more sexual pranks.

Ultimately, the Columbia Police Department did not charge anyone, but the Fire Department’s administrative investigation into the behavior did land on police investigators’ desks, the Police Department confirmed.

The review for criminal offenses started after a firefighter walked off the job because of the antics at the Columbia Fire Department’s Station 8 at 933 Atlas Road, according to internal documents from the department. When asked why he left, the firefighter said he “couldn’t take the sexual crap anymore.”

Fire Department officials looked into the station and its leaders and concluded that a “substantial leadership failure” had “fostered an over-sexed culture laden with unacceptable conversation, pranks that far exceed the bounds of professional conduct and offensive touching.” Fire Department officials fired five of the station’s employees, including its battalion chief, Christopher Gates, two captains, a fire engineer and a senior firefighter.

On April 29, the Fire Department met with Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, documents show. The Fire Department asked for its investigation to be reviewed by the Columbia Police Department for any criminal violations. The focus of the police review centered on whether any of the sexual pranks and behaviors were criminal, according to the Police Department.

“After a thorough review, and based on the information provided, no criminal charges apply,” Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons said.

Other incidents involving property damage by the firefighters at the station were not reviewed by police, Timmons said.

The Fire Department’s investigation included allegations of rough horseplay that knocked over furniture and lockers and, in one instance “most likely damaged all of the dining room chairs and recliners and blinds in the day room.”

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