SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio Fire Department captain, terminated in 2015 after facing allegations he worked a second job while collecting line-of-duty injury benefits, has been reinstated by SAFD and is scheduled to report for duty Monday morning.
Thomas Caldwell, a 19-year veteran of SAFD, is likely due significant back pay, leave and benefits.
Sources familiar with his reinstatement said back pay alone could top $600,000.
City Attorney Andy Segovia on Friday said how much Caldwell is owed is still in dispute and despite the city abiding by the arbitrator’s decision to return him to duty, Caldwell’s actions warranted being terminated.
Caldwell was originally handed two indefinite suspensions in April 2015 after a city investigation determined he violated rules related to truthfulness and restrictions on activities while on injured leave.
Caldwell, according to city records, was accused of telling a workers compensation claims adjuster in 2014 that he had not been working for several months, even though the city’s investigation also determined he appeared in court as an attorney during the same period of time.
Caldwell, who now serves as Wilson County Attorney, repeatedly denied the allegations, including during arbitration hearings in the case in December 2017.
An attorney for the captain also pointed out during those hearings that SAFD’s punishment of Caldwell came well outside the 180-day window to issue punishment.
City officials at the time blamed the delayed discipline on a separate, criminal investigation of Caldwell by the Texas Department of Insurance.
That investigation, which examined whether Caldwell had fraudulently obtained benefits, was closed in Feb. 2015 without any charges being filed, city records show.
The arbitrator, in March 2018, ruled that even though Caldwell had violated the SAFD rule pertaining to engaging in outside employment while on injured leave, his actions warranted a 15-day suspension.
“I am also at a loss to see how his continuing to work as an attorney while on leave cost the City any money. The Appellant is in business for himself. There is no evidence he has a salary. It appears to be a fee-based business - and not all attorneys’ fees are paid. It is sporadic in nature and as such probably would not have affected the amount of wage loss compensation he was entitled to. This is likely why the Department of Insurance closed its case at the end of its investigation,” wrote arbitrator Thomas Cipolla.
The arbitrator’s award, however, was challenged by city officials and Caldwell’s possible reinstatement dragged on years longer.
His attorney, Ben Sifuentes, pointed out Friday that three arbitrator awards in all have been handed down in the case.
“There is clearly animosity towards him,” Sifuentes said via telephone this week, after his client declined to comment on his reinstatement.
A Bexar County district court judge in November dismissed the city’s appeal of a hearing examiner’s award, paving the way for Caldwell to finally be brought back.
But Sifuentes said even that ruling has led to an unnecessary delay and that Caldwell should have been returned to duty as soon as the judge tossed out the city’s appeal.
“The city is just procrastinating in bringing him back and putting him back on the pay roll,” said Sifuentes.
City officials this month refused to make Segovia available for an interview.
He instead released a lengthy statement Friday:
“This is a case where a firefighter claimed disability prevented him from performing any duties at the Fire Department and accepted worker’s compensation payments. He used the time during which he should have been rehabilitating to work as an attorney. This double dipping is a blatant disregard of the obligations owed to the public and exploits the worker’s compensation protections. This behavior warranted termination. The arbitrators have required the City to bring this individual back to work as a firefighter. The amount of backpay is still in dispute and we are working to resolve this matter.”Andy Segovia, San Antonio City Attorney
SAFD officials referred all inquiries about Caldwell’s return to duty to the city attorney’s office.
Hood, during arbitration in Caldwell’s case, said he would “absolutely” have a problem with Caldwell working as a firefighter while also working as an attorney and representing Wilson County, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
The Local Government Code, however, states that a municipality may not prohibit a municipal employee from becoming a candidate for public office or take disciplinary action against them for doing so.
Hood also answered “yeah” when asked if he took offense to Caldwell wanting to represent fellow firefighters in disciplinary appeals, according to the transcript.
Caldwell’s reinstatement after more than a half-decade away from SAFD is somewhat similar to the case of now-former San Antonio Police Department Captain Joe Salvaggio.
Salvaggio was terminated in 2010, after internal affairs investigators claimed he cheated on an SAPD captain’s entrance exam.
But the veteran SAPD officer repeatedly declared his innocence and rejected eight offers to return to duty, since each offer included a written reprimand for the testing incident.
Despite a third-party arbitrator siding with Salvaggio, SAPD Chief William McManus for years stood behind his decision to fire the then-lieutenant.
That decision led to the city repeatedly losing in court.
A district court judge upheld the arbitrator’s ruling, the Fourth Court of Appeals sided with Salvaggio and the Texas Supreme Court then denied a request from the city to hear the case.
Salvaggio was eventually reinstated and then promoted to captain in 2014, and for a time was one of the highest paid city of San Antonio employees because of back pay and other compensation.
Salvaggio retired from SAPD and most recently worked as police chief for Leon Valley.