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Newly released documents detail allegations involving Tybee Island’s former fire chief

Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 4:54 PM EDT
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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - Newly released documents detail the allegations involving Tybee Island’s former fire chief.

Matt Harrell served as interim fire chief for an extended period and was promoted to fire chief in April. Harrell resigned as fire chief just two months later.

Documents from the city of Tybee Island show numerous complaints were made against the former chief including sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

The city began receiving complaints against Harrell in April. Documents WTOC requested from the city of Tybee Island included several complaints, female lifeguards specifically, stated that Harrell “crossed the line” and was “inappropriate” towards the females on staff. Other claims pointed to the work environment saying Harrell would show “aggressive behavior” and “crack down” on the guards instead of “correcting” them during training.

Harrel was put on paid administrative leave on May 13 while city reviewed and investigated the complaints.

Letters of support from residents and former co-workers were sent into city hall after Harrell was put on administrative leave. There was also a petition signed by more than 50 people in support of Harrell.

On June 2, documents say Harrell was informed by City Manager Shawn Gillen that a disciplinary hearing would be scheduled for the next day on June 3. Documents show that hearing would include the review of comments Harrell made about the bodies or physical characteristics of female lifeguards and actions made during training demonstrations that were considered inappropriate.

WTOC also confirmed the City of Tybee Island hired an independent human resources consulting firm to do the employee relations investigation on workplace concerns raised by an employee on the Beach Safety Team.

A report dated June 15, says the firm’s investigation found the claims against Harrell were quote “serious” and “concerning.” It notes that information from the interviews were inconsistent, but that there was enough information to raise questions regarding Harrell’s ability to lead the program successfully.

Two days later, Harrell turned in his letter of resignation to the city on June 17. In the letter, Harrell addressed the passion he had for the job and making Tybee Fire better. Harrell’s letter claimed he “came under three rounds of false accusation attacks” and that he denied “all accusations” made against him.

A second report from the firm on July 19 includes claims of retaliation toward some employees within the department after the complaints were made public against Harrell. The firm notes that the claims were inappropriate, but that there didn’t appear to be a definitive scenario of retaliation.

Again, Harrell resigned on June 17 and separately, there’s been no criminal investigation or charges. The city wouldn’t comment about the investigation, but say they are actively searching for a new fire chief.

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