City Terminated San Diego Fire-Rescue Captain After DV Conviction

A San Diego Fire-Rescue captain sentenced to nearly half a year in custody for felony domestic violence is no longer employed with the city of San Diego, NBC7 confirmed Tuesday.

Steven Michaels is serving 180 days in custody for injuring his girlfriend by throwing her against a wall in July 2017.

Several firefighters, a psychiatrist and the victim appeared in court at Michaels’ February sentencing pleading with the judge for a lighter sentence that would not end the respected supervisor’s 30-year firefighting career.

The victim testified on Michaels' behalf saying that they were in a “mutual combat” fight over his cell phone while they were both drunk.

The city confirmed Tuesday that Michaels' last day on the city’s payroll was March 4, just a few days after the Feb. 28 sentencing.

NBC 7 asked the city in March about Michaels’ employment status but did not receive a response then.

“What I am guilty of is, I was a bad person. I was a bad boyfriend,” Michaels said in court in February. “I don’t want to let her down and I don’t ever want to let my brothers and sisters from the fire department down.”

Judge Timothy Walsh said if he had reduced Michaels’ charge to a misdemeanor, which would have allowed Michaels to continue working and keep his pension, it would send the wrong message to the community.

Walsh criticized the defense for framing their argument as if it was the judge taking away the fire captain’s 30-year career. Walsh said Michaels was the one to take away his own career.

Michaels told the court his family depends on his salary.

The City of San Diego’s San Diego Fire Department follows Civil Service Rule XI.

That rule states an employee convicted of a crime faces suspension or removal, under various circumstances. 

Those circumstances include:

  • The employee has been offensive in his or her conduct toward fellow employees, wards of the City, or the public.
  • The employee has been guilty of any conduct unbecoming an officer or employee of the City.
  • The employee has been convicted of a criminal offense involving moral turpitude.

The veteran fire captain was arrested on two prior occasions for domestic violence in 2006 and 2015.

Those incidents became an issue in the trial of a man who stabbed two SDFD firefighters in the East Village in June 2015.

The defendant in that case, Ryan Allen Jones, claimed Michaels’ temper started the altercation when he shoved Jones away from a patient receiving medical care. 

Surveillance and body camera video shows one of the firefighters, Ben Vernon, backing away from Jones with his hands up as Jones pulls out a knife and stabs him. Michaels and other firefighters raced to Vernon’s aide and another firefighter was stabbed trying to save his partner.

Both Vernon and Alex Wallbrett recovered from their injuries. Jones was convicted to more than 20 years in prison.

During Jones’ trial, Michaels testified that in 2006 he punched his wife who was seven months pregnant at the time. No disciplinary action was taken against Michaels and no charges were filed.

"We took no action because his behavior posed no threat to other employees or to the public," then-SDFD spokesperson Lee Swanson said.

City pay data shows Michaels was promoted from fire engineer to fire captain after the first arrest.

Neither Michaels nor his defense attorney responded to a request for comment for this update.

Defense Attorney Gretchen Von Helm told the court in February her client took the charges very seriously and he had participated in a recovery program.

She said he was doing ongoing therapy to cope with issues he developed while on the job,  including PTSD. 

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