The executive director of Sacramento County’s main dispatch center for fire and EMS 911 calls has been placed on administrative leave, and employees and his supervisor reported that his alleged “mental instability” and mentions of owning firearms made them fear for their safety.
Two deputy directors at the Sacramento Regional Fire and EMS Communications Center and a deputy fire chief overseeing the facility near Mather Field were granted restraining orders against Joseph Thuesen on April 15, three days after Thuesen and one other employee were placed on paid administrative leave.
The dispatch center had not appointed an interim executive director as of Tuesday morning, Sacramento Fire Department Deputy Chief and Center Chairman Chris Costamagna said in an emailed statement to The Sacramento Bee, meaning it has operated since April 12 with its top management position vacant.
Thuesen was placed on paid administrative leave from the top job at the dispatch center four days after he allegedly had an “emotionally charged” conversation with employees that prompted concern, according to filings in Sacramento Superior Court.
During that conversation, Thuesen allegedly broke into tears while speaking about a personal matter, told his employees he owned an “arsenal” of guns and made reference to “vigilante justice,” according to the petition for the restraining order filed on behalf of Costamagna, who is Thuesen’s supervisor.
A workplace violence prevention temporary restraining order was granted to the dispatch center, providing protection to Costamagna and the center’s two deputy directors, Diane House and Kylee Soares.
House and Soares provided declarations in the filing, detailing their alleged interactions with Thuesen over a span of a few days in April.
House and Soares met with Costamagna outside of the workplace April 8 to discuss concerns that Thuesen had been misusing center funds, House wrote in her declaration.
House talked to Thuesen that same day, she wrote.
“During our conversation (Thuesen) appeared to be emotionally charged – he was crying and very upset. (He) shared that one of his friend’s sons was a victim of a suspicious death. He also made comments to the effect of:
▪ ‘I have an arsenal at my house’
▪ ‘There is such a thing as vigilante justice’
▪ ‘It will be on like donkey kong’
▪ ‘If I could pack a gun I would.’ ”
The workplace restraining order was filed “(o)ut of an abundance of caution for employee safety,” according to the statement provided by Costamagna. The statement says the center’s board of directors recently became aware of “accounting irregularities.”
“As stewards of public funds, we take all fiscal matters seriously and have taken action to conduct an independent review of financial transactions,” Costamagna’s statement continued. “We also placed two employees on temporary paid administrative leave, pending the results of the investigation.”
Costamagna in a later email said the dispatch center has observed no disruption in service due to the two employees being placed on leave, and that the board is not disclosing the name or position of the second employee.
Among other administrative and managerial duties, the executive director for the center is responsible for developing and proposing “preliminary and final budgets for consideration by the Governing Board,” according to a job description for the role provided to The Sacramento Bee by Costamagna.
The duties normally assigned to the executive director have been handled by Soares, House and board members for the Center, Costamagna said in his emailed statement.
Thuesen could not be reached for comment.
FEARING A ‘MURDER-SUICIDE’
In her declaration, Soares wrote that on April 9 she was directed by Costamagna to ensure Thuesen attended a counseling session, which made Thuesen “unhappy” and “visibly annoyed” with her. Soares wrote that she has worked with Thuesen for 19 years.
House wrote that on the same day, she was ordered by Costamagna to call Sutter Health’s employee assistance program “to schedule an emergency critical incident debriefing with a clinician” for Thuesen, and that Soares followed Thuesen to the debriefing to make sure he went.
Two days later, on April 11, Soares wrote Thuesen “expressed that he is frustrated with Deputy Director House and me.”
“One finance member has expressed to me that she fears (Thuesen) will commit a ‘murder-suicide,’” Soares’ declaration says. “At a separate time, she also asked about establishing safety precautions for center personnel.”
Thuesen was placed on paid administrative leave April 12, and Costamagna alleges that Thuesen’s “demeanor changed from sad to more angry” as he verbally protested while gathering his belongings and leaving the property, court documents say.
Thuesen allegedly told Costamagna: “(I)t doesn’t need to be like this, Chris.”
House, Soares and Costamagna each concluded their declarations saying they were fearful or concerned for their own safety and the safety of their coworkers. Costamagna additionally wrote in his own statement that he had previously seen Thuesen “fixate on an issue and want to make people pay for what they have done.”
House and Soares could not be reached for comment.
The temporary restraining order alleges that Thuesen “owns firearms and he has made it known to center staff members that he has firearms.” The restraining order requires that the respondent provide proof of turning in, selling or storing all firearms.
However, in a form filed to the court dated April 22, Thuesen simply wrote “I do not own, possess, or control any firearms,” three separate times.
‘I’M LAUGHING. HE HARDLY CUSSES.’
Tina Dungan, a 21-year veteran of the dispatch center who said she retired three years ago, told The Bee she worked with Thuesen for 15 years.
Dungan vehemently defended Thuesen, referring to the ordeal as “just crazy,” calling him one of the nicest people she’d ever worked with and saying she had never known him to own guns or talk about them at work. She said it would not be in his nature to joke about guns.
“He doesn’t even own a weapon, that’s the crazy thing,” Dungan said. “The thought of him doing workplace violence? I’m laughing. He hardly cusses.”
Dungan did say, though, that she has had infrequent contact with Thuesen in the three years since she retired. She has since moved to Oregon. She has been in touch with Thuesen since he was placed on leave, and said he feels “physically sick” knowing his career is likely ruined.
Dungan said Thuesen was instructed not to discuss the incident.
“Joe can’t talk to anyone right now,” she said.
Dungan told The Bee that the second person placed on administrative leave was Thuesen’s executive assistant, and that it would be standard practice for an assistant to be put on leave if their boss was placed on leave.
Dungan referred to her former workplace as a “hellhole” with some people, including Thuesen, “trying to make it a better environment.”
“He wants to make dispatch better. That’s why he took that job,” she added, saying he worked his way up from a dispatcher to leading operations.
Thuesen, 46 and a Cameron Park resident, was appointed to the executive director position – initially on an interim basis – in December 2017, board meeting records show. It’s unclear what Thuesen’s base salary was, but the position paid the previous director $178,592 in 2016.
WHO GOVERNS THE CENTER?
The dispatch center is managed under joint authority of Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department, Folsom Fire Department, Sacramento Fire Department and Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. The four-member board of governors is composed of a chief or deputy chief from each of those agencies.
The center handles fire and medical calls from those four jurisdictions plus six others: the Courtland, Herald, Isleton, Walnut Grove and Wilton fire departments, and the River Delta Fire Protection District.
According to its website, the center handles more than 350,000 emergency calls annually, and dispatches emergency responders to more than 169,000 incidents every year.
The board of governors for the center held a special meeting April 17 to initiate an internal investigation into Thuesen, court documents say. According to Costamagna’s statement, this investigation is centered on the alleged accounting irregularities rather than the alleged incidents that prompted the workplace violence restraining order.
A second special meeting was held Friday, in lieu of the board’s regular semimonthly meeting, in which the appointment of an interim executive director was discussed during a closed session.
The temporary restraining order bars Thuesen from going within 500 yards of the three individuals, their family members, their workplace, their children’s schools, or the center’s offsite training center located in Rancho Cordova. It also prevents Thuesen from contacting any center employee, directly or indirectly.
A hearing has also been scheduled regarding a permanent restraining order against Thuesen, set for May 10, when the temporary order expires.