Burn Baby Burn

Deputy fire chief files lawsuit against department whistleblower

Last fall at a fire conference in Houston, Dallas Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Michael Price allegedly yelled at a woman to “show us your tits” during a skit. His colleagues would later tell department internal affairs investigators that they were “startled, mortified and embarrassed” by his remark. They also said that at various points during the convention he had appeared drunk, badgered the hotel staff, belittled a waitress and talked about going to a strip club.

For his assorted misadventures, the 53-year-old Price received no formal punishment from the department other than a letter of counseling, which is basically a mild warning. Now, however, he is suing the woman who exposed his frat-boy behavior in a gossipy fire hall newsletter called the Fire Rescue Poop Sheet.

Sherrie Wilson, Dallas’ first female firefighter and now a formal, if long-shot, candidate to fill the open fire chief position, resuscitated a long-dormant newsletter in November 2004, shortly after Price returned from Houston. Price had been her supervisor for two and a half years, during which the two clashed over her administrative duties. Wilson claims that she did not publish the newsletter to exact revenge on her former boss, but the effect was the same. In the comeback issue of the newsletter, she broke the news of the deputy’s boozing while belittling him in a poem titled “I Am Deputy.” “City trips with me are real embarrassing. When I drink too much I scream insanities,” she wrote in the newsletter that was sent to all 55 of Dallas’ fire stations. “This exercise in power makes me feel so proud. But the people around me see a big jerk in shroud.”

Firefighter Sherrie Wilson rakes the department's muck.
Mark Graham
Firefighter Sherrie Wilson rakes the department's muck.

OK, so it’s not exactly Keats, Dylan or, hell, Stefani. But what Wilson lacks in lyrical acuity, she makes up for with a Drudge-like flair for entertaining, if unsubstantiated, exposés. Without mentioning him by name, Wilson hounded “our awesome deputy chief,” accusing him of stealing money from fair vendors, bilking the city out of travel money and parking in handicap spots. In April, Price filed a lawsuit alleging that the revelations published by the Poop Sheet caused him “shame, embarrassment, humiliation, pain and mental anguish.”

Soon after, numerous colleagues say that the deputy chief bragged about his lawsuit against Wilson, claiming that he was going to “kick her in the cunt.” After the deputy chief filed a complaint against Wilson with the fire department, she replied with one of her own in a letter to the department’s internal affairs division. There she claimed that Price himself bragged about his assorted misbehaviors, including being drunk in public, yelling obscenities at a fire conference and making that threatening comment about her. The department investigated Price and corroborated many of Wilson’s most damaging accusations. Although the final report on the deputy chief officially did not sustain the accusation that Price was intoxicated while at a conference in Houston, three eyewitnesses more or less portrayed the deputy chief as the second coming of Keith Moon. “Mike Price appeared intoxicated and consumed between [six] and ten alcoholic beverages in my presence,” said David Martin, a section chief. Martin also said that Price smelled of alcoholic beverages throughout the conference and that he felt compelled to apologize to the conference’s organizers because the deputy chief’s behavior “was so embarrassing.” Martin also added that he and his colleagues made it a point to avoid the ill-behaving Price toward the end of the conference. Price, though, told investigators he was not intoxicated and the charge against him was not sustained because the “investigation of this allegation is untimely.”

The report did sustain the accusation that Price shouted “show us your tits” to a woman who was performing a skit. Price told investigators that the skit was modeled after The Jerry Springer Show and so his comment was meant in that context, but several of his colleagues said they were “shocked” at his remark. “I was very embarrassed and asked Mike if he was drunk,” said John Ostroski, a hazardous materials coordinator for Dallas Fire-Rescue.

Finally, investigators corroborated the charge that Price told colleagues that he was going to kick Sherrie Wilson “in the cunt” even though he denied ever saying that. Several witnesses, however, heard him say it. The report concluded that the deputy chief did not mean the remark in the physical sense, but as a sign of confidence about his impending litigation against Wilson. Investigators were not able to corroborate any of Wilson’s other allegations, many of which were years old. Still, even in those cases they fleshed out more embarrassing details including his boasts about conning the city out of travel money and his belligerent treatment of the hotel staff. (Neither Price nor his attorney returned calls for comment.)

Wilson says that she was surprised that the department failed to punish Price. “I expected them to take this issue seriously just like they would with rank-and-file employees.”

The department doesn’t exactly defend how it handled Price’s behavioral lapses.

“The prudent thing to say is that was handled by the previous administration, and they were responsible for the punishment,” says Lieutenant Joel Lavender, a spokesman for the department, referring to former Fire Chief Steve Abraira.

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