ANJ Investigates

Investigates: Jacksonville’s Chief of emergency services accused of sexual harassment

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An Action News Jax exclusive investigation found the man who makes decisions in times of crisis, like hurricanes, has also been described by top law enforcement and public safety officials as displaying “reprehensive conduct,” “inappropriate behavior,” and “deplorable actions.”

Those words are used to describe Chief Todd Smith of the Emergency Preparedness Division. He runs the Emergency Operations Center for Jacksonville and is in charge in times of emergency.

Investigator Emily Turner found that during training for that job, his conduct was called into question not only by some of the highest authorities with both the city and the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department but also by an out-of-state law enforcement agency whose employee said he sexually harassed her at the National Homeland Security Conference.

So Action News Jax tracked down Chief Smith on his hour-and-a-half lunch break. JFRD denied our request to interview him so we followed his midday entourage to Southern Grill restaurant.

“We’re here for you,” investigator Emily Turner told him when he walked out an hour and a half later.

As soon as Smith heard Action News Investigator Jax Emily Turner say, “We want to talk to you about the national homeland security conference you attended last year,” he ran inside the restaurant and out a different door. He gave his keys to a coworker and gave ANJ the slip.

But official documentation paints a very clear picture of what happened with the woman at an evening event for the conference. She’s a Criminal Intelligence Analyst for Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP). Action News Jax requested internal emails from MSHP that state Chief Smith “grabbed her arm and dragged her onto the dance floor,” “asked where she was staying,” and “continuously intruded on (her) personal space, physically placing his hands on her arms, encircling her waist and touching her buttocks.” Until she was able to “remove herself from Todd’s presence.”

The woman didn’t want to file an official report, hoping it could be handled administratively. But the incident was serious enough her MSHP supervisor contacted Chief Smith’s boss, Chief Keith Powers with JFRD “so it could be handled appropriately,” according to an internal email exchange. The email says Smith didn’t deny his behavior or try to justify it and the Chief Powers promised MSHP he’d fire Smith if it ever happened again and would “place a formal reprimand in Smith’s personnel file.”

So Turner pulled his personnel file and went through it page by page. There’s nothing about the incident anywhere. But the internal City of Jacksonville emails show Smith was called to City Hall to meet with the Office of General Council, Chief Powers, and COJ Employee Services.

That email also stated Smith was “reminded that he must maintain a professional relationship...when operating in a job-related capacity.” That he was “advised that he can be demoted... and disciplined for violating City of Jacksonville policy” and “counseled on city policy to ensure his understanding.” Finally, he was assigned remedial sexual harassment training. But there’s no way to know whether he completed that or not because none of this is in anything other than internal emails.JFRD said it was following orders from the city’s Office of General Counsel. So Action News Jax went to City Hall to find Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes. Turner asked why “Chief Powers, his boss, promised something would officially go in his file and yet there’s nothing there.” To which Hughes replied, “I can’t tell you about MSHP records, but I can say Chief Powers and I have followed every process for every complaint for every employee using the Office of General Counsel’s office.”

This particular employee, our investigation found, is paid $153,367.56 to oversee the team that prepares for, protects against, responds to, and recovers from all hazards. So since it’s Hurricane Preparedness Week, Action News Jax thought it was important to ask whether he’s the right man for that job.

Turner asked Hughes, “If he doesn’t have the judgment to walk away when a woman tells him ‘no’, should he be running the EOC?” He replied, “I can’t speak to a specific complaint of reference, but obviously public records will speak for themselves.”

Turner found public records also reveal something else. Internal documents show Chief Smith’s request to go back to the National Homeland Security Conference this summer has been approved. So taxpayers could be footing the almost $10,000 bill for Smith and three coworkers to head to Chicago in July.

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