SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood violated city rules when he posed for a photo next to a woman lying on a table with her nude body covered with sushi, according to an investigation by an outside attorney hired by the City. The photo first published by the Express News in October shows Hood kneeling at the table and holding a pair of chopsticks.
The chief was off duty and not in uniform when the photo was taken in January at a birthday party for a firefighter who has been battling cancer. Battalion Chief Brian McEnery complained about the photo in September, but it was not sent up the proper chain of command.
“The Chief’s decision to pose for the picture and the subsequent failure to forward the September complaint about it to Human Resources for investigation is a violation of City policies,” City Manager Erik Walsh said in a statement following the probe. “We’re expected to treat every complaint seriously and expeditiously, which was not done in this case.”
While the incident did not occur at the workplace, the report indicates there were between 200-300 people a the party and about half were SAFD personnel, including female firefighters.
“As such, it is arguable that Hood’s behavior among his employees–regardless of where–may impact his employees’ perceptions of attitudes in the workplace,” stated a report from the City Attorney to Walsh.
The report goes on to say that as the head of a department that is predominately male and in a field that has historically proven to be difficult for women and minorities, Hood has a duty to set the proper tone regarding the treatment of women and minorities.
“Hood’s willful posing for a picture with a nude Asian woman covered in sushi was not in comportment with that higher standard,” the report states.
The summary of investigative findings notes that Hood and others tried to argue that the sushi model was not naked because she was covered with banana leaves, but the investigator “found this argument to be disingenuous.” The report also noted that “it is troubling that Fire Department personnel did not any time during their interviews show any awareness of how Hood’s conduct could have offended certain people.”
Walsh says his entire executive team is held to a higher standard at work and off duty.
“At my request, Chief Hood has provided me with a course of action to address improving the culture of SAFD by recognizing different perspectives, equal opportunity for women and the proper handling of complaints of this nature,” said Walsh.
In response to a letter of discipline from the city manager’s office, Hood said his staff will workwith the Equity Office to develop a training module addressing recognition, validation and valuation of different cultures and perspectives; expand the “Hero Like Her” program; analyze current recruitment practices; and establish a working group to develop a female employee mentoring program focusing on advancement and leadership.
“I want to apologize again for the photo,” said Hood in an emailed statement. “I am looking at this as an opportunity to develop an action plan to improve SAFD’s culture in respecting differing perspectives and ensuring women are provided with opportunities to join, contribute and lead within the department.”
Hood also vows to develop a process for properly handling issues and complaints concerning SAFD, in addition to bringing an outside instructor to conduct classes in employment discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment.
“I am confident that Chief Hood and his leadership team will renew their focus on creating a culture in the Fire Department that promotes respect and professionalism – one where there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior and where women are respected, empowered and given the opportunity to promote and lead. As the Deputy City Manager who oversees the Fire Department, those are certainly my expectations.”