GBI probe Columbus Fire and EMS on illegal reporting allegations
By Sara Belsole
COLUMBUS, GA – Columbus Fire and EMS under comes under fire Tuesday.
About 10 Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents and investigators with the District Attorney's Office spent the majority of Tuesday interviewing senior members of the fire department, all concerning what the GBI is calling allegations of illegal record keeping and reporting.
“The allegation involves the creation of documents, the maintenance of those documents and the dissemination of documents,” Special Agent Wayne Smith says.
Smith led interviews with more than a dozen senior fire officials. District Attorney Julia Slater says she contacted the GBI about a month ago after receiving information that fire employees “may have committed criminal acts.”
“The allegation was sufficient. It did have enough detail, enough substance, enough potential validity,” Smith says.
The agents served a search warrant Tuesday, collecting records for analysis.
“We are trying to determine if anything inappropriate has occurred,” Smith says.
Officials say all interviews were voluntary and no one was read their rights or placed under arrest. Fire Chief Jeff Meyer says he had no knowledge of the allegation until agents showed up Tuesday morning.
“Surprised to say the least, but look, we work for the government, these things come up from time to time,” Meyer says.
The Chief says his department is being more than cooperative.
“It's just another way to validate what we do in the department, over the last 4-5 years we have been one of the most scrutinized departments and we pride ourselves in being proactive,” Meyer says.
Officials say they are looking into multiple fire investigations during a certain time period, which includes the February 2010 daycare fire. Nine children were inside the Mill Branch Road daycare when it caught fire. One-year-old Michael Duvard, Junior was killed and four other children were injured.
The GBI says they are looking into cases where the cause of the fire was unclear and the outcome of the investigation could potentially sway insurance payments.
“There may be any number of motives for wanting to alter or not maintain these properly, but I don't want to speculate on motive because we don't know if anything has been done that's inappropriate,” Smith says.
Fire officials say they believe there will be a positive outcome.
“I am confident the truth will come out,” Meyer says.
The GBI says it seized two boxes full of documents but it is up to the District Attorney to decide whether to present agents' findings to a Grand Jury.