A San Diego Fire-Rescue (SDFD) captain faces a felony domestic violence charge, San Diego police confirmed Friday.
Capt. Steven Michaels, 53, was arrested at 4 p.m. Thursday and booked on felony charges of domestic violence and trying to dissuade a witness. He’s also accused of a misdemeanor of tampering with a wireless device.
Michaels has now been arrested three times for cases of domestic violence. In the first two arrests, he was not charged with a crime.
"Of course, no one wants to be arrested and it looks bad when someone is being arrested by law enforcement multiple times, but under the law where there is no conviction, it doesn't count," said Jeremy Warren, a criminal defense attorney.
Since the captain is a public official, his employment and pension could be affected if he's charged and convicted.
"Under a law that was passed in 2013, if you're a public official convicted of a felony, you lose your pension," said Warren. "But the felony has to be connected to your on-the-job activities."
The incident was reported on Friday, July 21 according to San Diego Police Lt. Scott Wahl but Michaels was not present at the time officers initially responded. Wahl did not know the details of the July 21 incident.
When detectives returned to the apartment to follow up on the call, Michaels was spotted and taken into custody at that time, Wahl said.
“When asked to provide the SDFD policy regarding leaders who are accused of a felony, SDFD spokesperson Mónica Munoz provided the City of San Diego Civil Service Rule XI.
The regulations cover all employees and state an employee faces suspension or removal under various circumstances including:
- 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.
Munoz did not comment on the criminal charges filed against Michaels, saying it is a personnel issue.
Michaels has had two other documented run-ins with law enforcement in the last 10 years.
His record was brought up during the trial of a San Diego man who stabbed two firefighters in the East Village in June 2015.
Video evidence showed Michaels made contact with the defendant, shoving him into a bench.
Defense attorneys questioned Michaels in court regarding two domestic violence arrests – one in 2006 and one in December 2015.
He said in court that in the 2006 incident, he punched his wife who was seven months pregnant at the time. No disciplinary action was taken against Michaels after the first domestic violence arrest. Charges were not 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.
In the December 2015 incident, Michaels testified in court that he kicked-in his girlfriend’s door. It was determined that charges would not be filed, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
"Our office reviewed the evidence and statements in this case and determined that domestic battery charges could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt," City Attorney Spokesman Gerry Braun said at the time.
Ed. Note: This article has been revised to update City of San Diego policy regarding suspension and removal of employees.