LAKELAND, Fla. — A Polk County Fire Captain, under scrutiny for sharing videos at the scene of a deadly fire in November, has been pulled off the streets.
Capt. James Williams has been placed on desk duty while officials investigate a second video Williams allegedly shot at a different fire scene five days earlier.
For now, the 34-year-old is on desk duty. Off the street, and out of position to fight fires or make any key decisions, “Pending an administrative investigation,” said Polk County Deputy Manager Joe Helman.
Williams had already been suspended 24 hours without pay for SnapChatting video of a fire that took the life of 76-year-old Lorretta Pickard. The Lakeland woman was pleading for a rescue that never came while Williams was in command that night.
A 911 call shows Pickard was on the line for more than 20 minutes waiting for help that never showed up.
“Why, after the captain acknowledged that someone was inside the residence, did they not try to send anyone in?” asked Heather Tuck, Pickard’s goddaughter.
The victim’s relatives say Williams’ conduct demonstrates a lack of judgment needed to make life and death decisions, and that if it can be verified he shot and shared more videos from more fire scenes, he should be fired.
On Tuesday, some of Pickard‘s relatives came to the Polk County Commission meeting to ask officials to also investigate what they consider a cover-up.
“We don’t believe that things have been handled correctly,” said Pickard’s niece, Amber Addison, “as if he’s almost conspiring with Williams.
Addison was referring to Deputy County Manager Joe Halman, accusing him of covering for Williams, who was elevated to captain under a department program to promote diversity.
Halman has denied the accusation and says he’s the one who pulled Williams off the street during this latest investigation.
“I made that decision...along with the county manager,” said Halman.
The president of Polk County Firefighter’s Union was hesitant to weigh in on Williams latest discipline.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what their standard procedure is,” said Derek Walsh. “I don’t think that’s a standard issue that we’re dealing with.”
Still, officials were already concerned enough -- by what they had seen in the second fire video -- to pull Williams off the street.
If it’s authenticity can be verified, a County commissioner tells 10News it would not only be another violation of the county’s media policy but could mean Williams lied when he allegedly said there were no other videos out there.
If so, the commissioner says that could be a fireable offense.
County workers say it’s not clear what Capt. Williams' duties and responsibilities are while he is on paid administrative leave.
Polk commissioners said on Tuesday that the county is hiring an outside group to review the case and has vowed to leave no stone unturned.
►Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10News app now.