Local News

Fire chief defends firefighter linked to NJ investigations

Posted January 3, 2011 3:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 3, 2011 6:57 p.m. EST

— Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath Monday defended a member of his department linked to two ongoing investigations in New Jersey.

McGrath said he is aware that Herman Gregory Ellis is being investigated by New Jersey officials and has taken appropriate action. He said Ellis hasn't done anything to warrant being fired or demoted.

Ellis worked for 14 years as a firefighter in Harrison, N.J., near Newark, before retiring on disability in November 2008. Two months before he went on disability, Ellis began working for the Raleigh Fire Department.

In March, Ellis was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. According to court records, police said Ellis grabbed his girlfriend's hair and face. He pleaded guilty and agreed to take an abuser program to have the charge dismissed.

In December, New Jersey officials began investigating Ellis for taking a disability pension from his job as a firefighter there, while he works as a firefighter in Raleigh.

The New Jersey board for the Police and Firemen's Retirement System suspended Ellis' monthly payments until it can investigate the situation. A hearing on the matter is planned Jan. 10.

Ellis, 39, has said he did nothing wrong and referred all questions to his attorney.

The Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey reported in mid-December that Ellis was one of nearly 250 officers and firefighters who received anabolic steroids or hormones from a Jersey City physician.

McGrath would not comment specifically on how Raleigh is handling the investigations involving Ellis, citing personnel laws and privacy.

“Currently, North Carolina does not have rules or laws – a binding law – that requires a proper investigation with transparency, accountability and clarity,” said John Midgette, a spokesman for the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association which fights for the rights of public servants.

Midgette said his group is fighting for a state discipline standard that would impact police and firefighters.

In 2007, a bill was drafted but never brought to a vote. Supporters say there should be a state standard because local police and fire officials have their retirement and training tied to state regulation as well.

“That’s why we have this strange process where public matters can’t be public because they are private. It’s the greatest oxymoron in my working career,” Midgette said.

Midgette said setting state standards would protect against firing without a legitimate reason as well.