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Officials close Ottman case

Posted: January 25, 2011 9:10 p.m.
Updated: January 26, 2011 4:30 a.m.

Timothy John Ottman

 

Local civilian Fire Chief Timothy John Ottman, who shot and killed himself while being investigated for allegations of wrongdoing, committed no crime, according to Ottman’s relatives.

Ottman’s brother Fire Chief Thomas Ottman and his brother’s widow, Valerie, said they were so informed by Ottman’s boss Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman.

The two met with Freeman at the start of the new year.

“Chief Freeman invited Tim’s wife and myself to meet,” Thomas Ottman said Monday. “He told us the report had been completed and that it was given to the Fire Department.

“The auditor-controller found that (Ottman) did not do anything criminal or fraudulent,” Ottman said. “The auditor-controller is finished with their part of the investigation, and that was told to Val and myself.”

Freeman confirmed Tuesday that he met with Ottman’s family.

Asked if he told the Ottmans that no criminality was found, Freeman said he was prohibited from discussing the case.

“This whole very unexpected outcome has impacted the entire department,” Freeman said. “Through the turmoil, it’s been hard for everyone. I’ve tried to support and assist the family the best I can. Unfortunately, we may never be able to connect the dots.

“Hopefully, this will wrap things up for the family,” he said.

Although news that Timothy Ottman had been cleared of criminal wrongdoing was well-received, his brother says he now wrestles with one simple question: What would drive an innocent man to take his own life?

Three tough months
Earlier this year, the county auditor-controller’s Office of County Investigations began investigating allegations of fraud that implicated 52-year-old Timothy Ottman, of Valencia.

The allegations arrived at the investigations office by way of an anonymous complaint received on the county’s fraud hot line, the county investigator handling the complaint said earlier this month.

“He was very upset,” Thomas Ottman said. “He had a tough three months without support. It was a very difficult time for him.”

While rank-and-file firefighters below Timothy Ottman are backed by their union, Los Angeles County Fire Fighters Local 1014, and the sworn fire chiefs above him have the support of the Los Angeles Area Fire Chiefs Association, no one was in the court representing Ottman, a high-ranking, but civilian, manager.

“The county has become aware that the civilian chiefs are left on an island by themselves,” Thomas Ottman said. “If Tim had been a sworn chief, he would have had representation. He didn’t have anybody to talk to.”

Firefighters have a bill of rights assuring any member facing an allegation is told specifically what he or she is being accused of.

Civilian chiefs have no such bill of rights.

Investigative procedure
Chief Investigator Guy Zelenski, the chief investigator at the Office of County Investigations, referred all questions Tuesday to his boss, Judy Thomas, the county’s assistant auditor-controller.

“I cannot talk to the press,” Zelenski said.

Thomas, speaking in general terms and not specifically about Ottman’s case, said the subjects of investigations are told about the allegations against them.

“Normally, the subject is one of the final interviews conducted, once the majority of the evidence and witness statements have been gathered,” she said in an e-mail. “The subject may not be told in advance, but is notified during the course of the interview itself as to the specifics of the allegation and the evidence that has been gathered.”

Although county investigators concluded Ottman broke no law, according to Thomas Ottman, the investigators followed procedure and sent particulars of the Ottman case to the executive branch of the Fire Department.

If there’s evidence of a crime, the Office of County Investigations would have notified the county District Attorney’s Office, Thomas said.

The Ottman case is now expected to be reviewed by the Fire Department’s investigators to see if the veteran chief complied with department protocol and followed procedure.

The person at the Fire Department’s executive office in charge of this is Compliance Officer Kathleen Zelenski, wife of Guy Zelenski.

A receptionist referred questions for Kathleen Zelenski to Freeman.

“It primarily looks at procedures,” Freeman explained about the department’s compliance office. “Sometimes there are allegations of wrongdoing that may involve failure to comply with rules.”

Suicide
On Oct. 26, in a public parking lot in Ventura, Timothy Ottman shot himself in the head with a .45-caliber pistol.

On the front seat of his white pickup truck, Ventura investigators found six envelopes he had addressed to his wife and children, according to details of an investigation conducted by Ventura County Senior Deputy Medical Examiner Craig Stevens.

In his report, Stevens explained how he opened two envelopes in the course of his investigation.

His report reads: “One of the notes read in part, ‘I hurt the Dept. I love, people I work with.”

This led Stevens ultimately to contact the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Stevens said he asked a Fire Department official if there was “anything going at work that might have troubled (Ottman)” and was told about the internal investigation — that it involved contracts, Ottman and other people.

Fire chiefs contacted repeatedly by The Signal all said they are prohibited by policy to discuss details of the case.

Fire station construction
Ottman helped build a significant number of fire stations in the Santa Clarita Valley.

As a 24-year veteran of the Fire Department, he was a civilian chief in charge of the Construction and Maintenance
Division.

Most recently, he was involved in getting six new stations built in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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