San Diego

San Diego Firefighter Captain Faces Judge After Arrest

Capt. Steven Michaels faces three felony counts stemming from a July 21 fight with his girlfriend

A captain with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department faced a judge in court Tuesday as he pleaded not guilty in a domestic violence case.

Capt. Steven Michaels, 53, faces three felony counts stemming from a July 21 fight with his girlfriend.

Prosecutors allege Michaels threw his girlfriend against a wall, caused an injury and then refused to allow her to make a phone call to seek medical attention, according to Deputy District Attorney Samira Seidu. 

The incident was reported on Friday, July 21, San Diego Police Lt. Scott Wahl told NBC 7. But Michaels was not present at the time officers initially responded. 

When detectives returned to the apartment on Thursday, July 27, to follow up on the call, Michaels was spotted and taken into custody at that time, Wahl said.

Michaels is charged with injury to a spouse or significant other, assault likely to cause great bodily injury and dissuading a witness in reporting a crime, Seidu said. 

Prosecutors also requested a protective order barring Michaels from contacting the victim in the case.

Defense attorney Gretchen Von Helms disputed the facts in court and later told reporters her client deserves the assumption of innocence under the law.

“He is obviously taking this very seriously. He has to address these allegations which he’s doing,” she said.

Michaels has served the community honorably for 30 years including work with the San Diego Burn Institute and as an instructor at the San Diego Fire Academy, Von Helms said.

If convicted of all charges, Michaels faces a sentence of five years in state prison. 

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, in that case, 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.

Michaels testified in court that he kicked-in his girlfriend’s door in the December 2015 incident. 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.

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 

Ed. Note: This article has been revised to update City of San Diego policy regarding suspension and removal of employees.

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