published Thursday, January 31st, 2013

New Bradley County Fire and Rescue battalion chief suspended

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A recently promoted Bradley County Fire and Rescue battalion chief has completed a two-day suspension resulting from inappropriate conduct involving the texting of a photograph of "a sexual nature" to a female fire department volunteer.

According to a Bradley County Human Resources investigation completed Jan. 24, Don Tankersley sent "inappropriate pictures" using his personal cell phone to a fire department volunteer while working on Aug. 15, 2012.

"I find these actions while on duty unbecoming of an officer of this department," interim Fire Chief Troy Spence stated in a letter to Tankersley.

Disciplinary actions for Tankersley included the suspension of two 24-hour shifts without pay, which took place on Jan. 27 and Jan. 30. He also had to undergo sexual harassment training and has been prohibited from carrying a county-owned cell phone for the next 12 months.

The investigation was launched Jan. 7 in response to sexual harassment allegations made against Tankersley by the fire department volunteer. While the investigation found that the facts did not support a sexual harassment allegation, it asserted that the battalion commander acted inappropriately.

"In a verbal complaint [the volunteer] alleges that she was subjected to sexual harassment from Battalion Commander Don Tankersley in the form of text messages and pictures," investigation records state. "[The complainant] states that the text messages were unwelcome and that they made her feel uncomfortable."

The investigation's evidence consisted of images of texts provided by the complainant and an admission of sending "one inappropriate photograph" by Tankersley.

Tankersley claimed in the human resources report that the exchange of photographs was consensual. He also said the complainant had engaged in photographic exchanges with other people, which was corroborated by another fire department employee.

Based on their review of available text messages, investigators stated they believed "some type of agreement" regarding pictures existed between the two parties, but the complainant "clearly" did not follow through with the agreement.

Some messages may have been withheld from the investigation.

"Further, it is apparent that some text messages between Mr. Tankersley and [the complainant] were not provided by either party," the human resources report stated.

According to the investigation, Tankersley said the incident involving the inappropriate photograph occurred while he was off duty and at home. His statement conflicts with fire department timesheets for the period in question.

The Bradley County mayor's office had no formal comment on the situation, said Dan Howell, executive assistant to Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis.

"The report stands on its own," Howell said.

Neither Tankersley nor Spence could be reached Wednesday for comment.

Tankersley was promoted to the position of battalion chief, along with firefighters Myron Hawkins and Jeff Stewart, in early December as part of strategic growth plans for Bradley County Fire and Rescue.

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