SAPD: Former fire union president tried to scare highest-ranking female firefighter out of applying for chief

SAN ANTONIO – The former president of the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association is accused of trying to scare off the highest-ranking woman in the San Antonio Fire Department from applying for the fire chief’s position, according to newly released documents.

Christopher Steele, 57, was arrested Friday in San Marcos on a felony stalking warrant out of Bexar County.

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San Antonio Police released documents Wednesday, including a police report, and warrant affidavits, showing SAFD Interim Deputy Chief Valerie Frausto was Steele’s alleged victim.

“INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATOR”

According to the documents, Frausto received texts and emails in March, supposedly from an “independent investigator” hired by someone applying for the fire chief position. The sender said his name was “Frank” and that he had “encountered some concerning allegations,” to which he asked Frausto to respond.

Those claims included that Frausto had used her position as fire marshal to order maximum fines be assessed at an ex-partner’s business and that there had been allegations of physical abuse from another former partner.

Frausto later told police she didn’t know what the sender was talking about.

Frausto first received a text message on Mar. 9 telling her to check her email for a message from earlier in the day. In that email, the sender warned that “any information provided and the nature of these allegations will be held in strict confidence and will not be disclosed unless you decide to pursue the Fire Chief position, at which point it may become necessary to further assess these matters.”

Frausto reported the email to the City Attorney’s Office, which sent “Frank” a cease and desist demand on Mar. 13.

The City Attorney’s Office told the sender the city had not retained them to do background checks and that the sender’s email address, which included “goodhire,” implied they worked for the background check company. However, the city’s demand noted that GoodHire had denied any knowledge of “Frank” or his “investigation.”

On Mar. 16, “Frank” sent Frausto another email demanding a response within 24 hours “outlining your plan of action to address these allegations” and warning that “the clock is ticking.”

Frausto contacted police that night and made a formal report.

On Mar. 22, she received another message from a new email address showing a news release that the sender claimed would go out to national and local news outlets “within the next few weeks.”

On Mar 27, Frausto received a text message from a new number showing a template for a similar news release.

Frausto told police she felt intimidated and threatened by the messages and that the sender was trying to coerce her into not applying for the fire chief’s position.

San Antonio Police traced the phone numbers back to Steele using Google Voice account information, email addresses associated with those accounts, and internet activity information.

MORE MESSAGES

The documents indicate two other members of the SAFD command staff received similar messages from “Frank.” Their messages included allegations they had paid to have union officials followed, been responsible for mental health breakdowns of firefighters, used offensive speech in front of civilian city employees, and committed sexual harassment.

However, the other command staff members are not named in the documents, nor do the messages to them appear in the affidavit for Steele’s charges.

Police also spoke with another SAFD employee who had received a message from “Frank” asking about allegations of abuse in their relationship with Frausto. That employee, who is not eligible for the chief’s job, told police they didn’t know what the sender was talking about as they had never had a relationship with Frausto.

READ MORE: Former San Antonio firefighters union president arrested on stalking charge

FRAUSTO IS HIGHEST-RANKING FEMALE IN SAFD

Frausto is a 23-year veteran of the SAFD who was appointed as the interim deputy fire chief over administrative services in January. The promotion came after the forced retirement of former SAFD Chief Charles Hood over an investigation into “vulgar” comments he had made prompted a domino effect within the command staff.

The previous deputy chief had been Christopher Monestier, whose appointment as interim fire chief was announced at the same time as Frausto’s.

Frausto’s previous roles with SAFD include city fire marshal, chief of communications, and assistant chief over employee wellness and recruitment.

A SAFD spokesman said Wednesday Frausto did not have any comment, due to the ongoing investigation.

SAFD Interim Deputy Chief Valerie Frausto. (Copyright 2024 by City of San Antonio – All rights reserved.)

STEELE NEARLY THREE YEARS RETIRED

In his time as SAPFFA president, Steele was known for his willingness to go toe-to-toe with City Hall. Most notably, he led the firefighters in a years-long contract fight that spanned the negotiating table, the courtroom, and the ballot box.

Under Steele, the fire union successfully rallied voters in 2018 to put limits on the city manager’s pay and tenure and to give the union the unilateral power to call for binding arbitration during contract negotiations.

However, that victory soon backfired on firefighters. After the union invoked its new power in 2019, a panel of arbitrators handed down a contract that fell short of what firefighters had hoped and for which the union is still trying to make up ground in its latest negotiations.

Steele retired as a battalion chief in August 2021. He left his union leadership position at about that time, union officials told KSAT.

Steele is free on bond after being booked into the Hays County Jail Friday.

He did not immediately respond to a voicemail or text message Wednesday afternoon.

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