STRASBURG — Town Fire Chief Dale King on Thursday responded to accusations that several members of his department were involved in rape or other sex offenses detailed in recently-unsealed court documents.
The affidavits for search warrants were unsealed in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Nov. 9 and allege that several department members were involved in the gang rape of a then-17-year-old girl. Those court documents also allege that the members recorded the assault on video and shared it on SnapChat, a mobile video and image messaging application. The affidavit says the Virginia State Police is investigating five members, none of whom are charged at this time.
King said in an interview Thursday that his department is working with state police with “100 percent cooperation.”
“We want to get this resolved just as much as anybody else does,” King said. “I just want the community to know that we’re still here for them — we’re still operating at 100 percent.
“People were really quick about making a judgment, but everybody needs to realize that as of now it’s just allegations,” King continued. “Let’s let the authorities do their job and actually see what the facts are before we jump to conclusions.”
King said that the department has not taken any disciplinary actions against those accused at this point. If any charges are filed, the defendants will be placed on administrative leave, meaning they will not be allowed to respond to any calls, participate in any department activities, or represent the fire department while on leave.
Department policy is to wait until a conviction of a “serious” felony before a firefighter is removed from the department, King said.
“As a department, we take allegations of crimes seriously because we are in the public eye, and we need people to trust us,” King added. “There’s nothing we can do [internally] just on allegations.”
The Strasburg Volunteer Fire Department has 50 operational members, King noted, and the department’s staffing and response times during this investigation have been at “acceptable” levels. He emphasized that volunteer firefighters must meet the same requirements as career firefighters, and that the department is made up of “neighbors helping neighbors.”
“No matter what happens, we’re still going to be here for the public,” King said. “Even if there is a case where there’s a couple members removed — which, I hope that’s not the case, but if it is, we will still be operating just as well as most departments if not still better.”