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Off-duty fight, sexual harassment charges mar Las Vegas Fire Department

Allegations of inappropriate remarks from a battalion chief about a female subordinate and a fistfight at an off-duty party demonstrate tensions within the Las Vegas Fire Department and complaints that leadership has not done enough to address them.

Engineer Cynthia Reveles, who is second vice president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1285, claimed that Battalion Chief Robert Pitts over a span of roughly a month beginning in September wrongfully accused her of sleeping with three of her colleagues. Pitts declined an interview to discuss the allegations.

Engineer Shane Carney said that he was punched by Capt. Steve Palenske during an employee retirement party at Red Rock Canyon Campground on April 22, with approximately 75 firefighters in attendance. Palenske, who is first in line for a promotion to battalion chief, admitted that he struck Carney in the nose, in “an event that was completely regrettable, of course.”

In both instances, Fire Chief Jeff Buchanan and Deputy Chief Dina Dalessio, the department’s top two officials, who have recently announced their retirements, were drawn into the fray by accusations that they tried to impede investigations into the incidents.

Inappropriate comments

Reveles shared with the Review-Journal a copy of an email she sent to Buchanan and the city’s human resources department in November detailing separate accounts of Pitts accusing two fellow union officers of having a relationship with her. Reveles’ email also said Pitts was overheard in a fire station kitchen telling a captain that Reveles and a union board member repeatedly had sex.

Reveles also shared the Dec. 30 email response she received from Buchanan.

He expressed concern about the allegations but explained that he and city officials determined after an investigation that comments attributed to Pitts did not rise to the level of sexual harassment.

“They do however, rise to the level of bad judgment by a command-level staff person of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue,” Buchanan wrote, using the department’s formal name.

Buchanan added that he had addressed her concerns with Pitts in a disciplinary setting and received assurances there would be no further occurrences.

Campground fight

Carney acknowledged having a strained relationship with Palenske for many years, but it turned violent at the party after a verbal altercation. Carney said Palenske punched him in the face, which led to more blows as they rolled in the dirt.

Palenske recalled it differently, saying that Carney was threatening and making a scene throughout the night and had put his hand in the face of his wife, former assemblywoman and current Las Vegas City Council candidate Francis Allen-Palenske.

Carney said he filed a police report a few days after the incident but has not pressed charges.

The Metropolitan Police Department said it does not have an incident report involving the two men.

Both men said they were ultimately disciplined for violating the department’s off-duty code of conduct. Palenske said his discipline was more severe and involved documentation that remained in his file for six months.

Mishandled probes?

Carney claimed that the city’s human resources department and Dalessio sought to shut down any formal review of the incident at the retirement party.

“The city knew the seriousness of it and they tried to cover it up,” he said.

Palenske rejected that notion, however, saying the department’s union had requested Dalessio not be a part of the process, and she was not.

But Carney, who has been with the department for two decades, said he was worried about future repercussions because Palenske is close with Dalessio and first in line for promotion to battalion chief.

Meanwhile, Reveles said that she and four other employees subsequently filed human resources complaints against Pitts. But she claimed that the city’s investigation ignored key people and that she was dismayed that Buchanan had sought a sit-down with her and Pitts, along with a human resources representative and a union representative, if she chose to bring one.

“Again, it’s our management trying to make me hash this out with that battalion chief so he could apologize and then they could brush it under the rug,” she said.

History of scandals

The reports of misconduct follow a series of scandals or missteps preceding Buchanan and Dalessio’s leadership that have bruised the department’s reputation over the past few years.

In 2020, the city agreed to pay $560,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a firefighter who claimed to have worked thousands of unreported or underreported overtime hours over a three-year span.

Two years earlier, a firefighter learned that a private, sexually explicit video of her had been circulating among her co-workers.

In 2020, the city agreed to pay $280,000 to settle claims that the department mishandled its investigation into the matter.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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