The Washington Times published a detailed story Wednesday about a sexual harassment allegation leveled against D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe back in 2010, when he was serving in the same capacity for Sarasota, Fla.
According to written statements contained in a Sarasota personnel file, female firefighters there complained that Ellerbe made them uncomfortable “because he looks them up and down and ‘talks to my chest.’ ”
Ellerbe appeared on WTTG-TV this morning with a response to the allegations: Sure, I was looking at firefighters’ chests, he said — to read the accusers’ name tags.
“If you were to ask me what my name is without talking, or just had to figure out what my name is, how would you do it?” he asked anchor Allison Seymour. “I didn’t know the people, so the only way that I’d be able to identify them was to look at their name tag and talk to them.”
Ellerbe said he believed the complaints were related to one instance during a “dress rehearsal” for a funeral, though the Times report says one accuser reported four separate incidents.
“I never looked at anybody’s chest as the paper is alleging,” he said. “I did not sexually harass anyone.”
Ellerbe also denied in the Times story making inflammatory comments — “It’s part of my heritage to check people out”; “I haven’t seen anything in this department I would want to undress with my eyes anyway” — during a discussion with a deputy about the accusations.
He did not directly refute those words during the TV interview, telling Seymour, “Once I started seeing things that were inaccurate in the article, I stopped reading it.”
Ellerbe never faced any discipline related to the accusation before he left Sarasota to return to D.C. last year. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) on Wednesday offered support for Ellerbe, saying at a news conference that he “has done an exceptional job.”