A former assistant fire chief whose conduct was investigated by police will not be charged, the City of Verona has been informed.
Don Catenacci resigned Dec. 17 while an investigations into an incident in which he allegedly choked a fellow member of the Verona Fire Department was ongoing. He had been accused last year of unprofessional behavior, and the allegations led to an investigation over the summer that yielded a separate report impugning the leadership of chief Joe Giver and later, a performance improvement plan for the chief.
The behavior Catenacci was initially accused of included rubbing the heads of other bald people, comments and questions about homosexuality and undesired touching of people’s faces. A report the city commissioned in July from the Riesling Group consultants indicated people working at the fire station generally found his behavior unprofessional but not threatening.
The recent allegation, forwarded by the union Dec. 5, turned into a criminal investigation. To avoid conflicts of interest, the case was forwarded to the Oregon Police Department.
According to the OPD report, the firefighter who said he was assaulted told police he was upset about the incident for about a week but “moved past the incident” after getting an apology from Catenacci and eventually developed a strong relationship with him.
On March 8, OPD told Verona police chief Bernie Coughlin the District Attorney’s office declined charges, according to an email between Coughlin and Mayor Luke Diaz that day.
“Regardless of the results of this investigation, the city is moving forward with its plan to improve our fire department,” Diaz told the Press in an email. “The City of Verona believes in inclusion and a positive work environment for our staff, and we will continue to work to ensure that every City department is well run and provides high quality services to our community.”
Catenacci, who was sworn in Feb. 12 as the fire chief in Wind Lake and had been working in that capacity since September while also working for VFD, told the Press from his office there Tuesday he preferred not to comment.
“I think pretty much it speaks for itself,” he said.
He had previously issued a statement to media saying he would not comment on the matter, but his resignation letter blamed other members for culture problems within the department and said he felt unsupported by the Common Council.
Catenacci was promoted to assistant chief from a full-time position in 2016. Some of the allegations were from before he was promoted.
The Riesling report resulted from an informal union complaint after Giver disciplined a union member with a suspension several months after an alleged incident. The day after Giver delivered the penalty, June 6, union secretary Ted Higgins wrote to the mayor, fire chief and others, calling it unequal treatment in light of Catenacci’s behavior.
While investigating the alleged incidents, Riesling investigator Dale Burke found common concerns among the 28 people he interviewed about cultural and leadership issues at the department. They included lack of accountability and lack of discipline, lack of follow-through on personnel issues, ineffective, inconsistent and autocratic leadership, favoritism and retaliation.
Burke presented that report and the companion compilation of complaints Sept. 25, and Diaz said Giver agreed to a performance improvement plan Oct. 10.