Jovan Palmieri, the former District Chief of the St. Paul, Minnesota, Fire Department, has accused Fire Chief Butch Inks and Assistant Chief Michael Gaede of favoritism and retaliation against trainees and employees. The complaint, filed on August 8, describes a pattern of preferential treatment towards trainees whom Inks had personal connections with and retaliation against those who tried to report this behavior. Palmieri was the fire training officer in charge of overseeing recruits in live training exercises between 2016 and 2019. He claims he was constructively discharged from the department because he repeatedly voiced concerns about trainees’ performances after they failed to perform to standards in exercises.
The lawsuit claims that in 2016, Inks intervened on behalf of multiple trainees who had performed poorly. Inks advocated for them to continue training and eventually graduate from the academy, against their training officers’ wishes. The report claims that continuing the recruits’ training “created a serious risk of injury or death to fellow firefighters and a risk to the public.” Palmieri claims that this behavior continued for the next three years. When in 2018, he confronted Inks and Gaede about the preferential and dangerous leadership he had witnessed, Palmieri said Gaede disagreed with him and told Palmieri that he should stop reporting this misconduct to them, threatening him to stay quiet. Gaede and Inks have also kept the training department short-staffed from 2018 on, at one point in 2018, Palmieri was the only staff in the training officer in the division. The ratio of officers to firefighters at that point was 1:450, far below required safety standards.
Minnesota’s Whistleblower Act bans retaliation against employees for reporting safety violations in good faith. Palmieri made numerous reports between 2016 and 2019 and tried to fix safety violations by talking to his superiors before filing the lawsuit. In December of 2019, he was discharged after filing a report to the city of St. Paul in which he fully expressed his concerns. The report was dismissed, and he was fired three months later.