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    Adviser investigated for sexual comments

    Officials suspend a 15-year veteran and an investigation continues after an Explorer reports the comments.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 7, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- An adviser of the Dunedin Fire Department's youth Explorer program is under internal investigation after a female Explorer complained that he made inappropriate sexual comments to her.

    The 17-year-old Explorer told officials that firefighter-EMT Edmond Avery touched her knee after a fundraising event Saturday and told her: "This is sexy."

    When the girl gave him a disgusted look and said the comment reminded her of boys she dates, Edmond told her "I guess everyone's horny," she told Pinellas sheriff's officials.

    The girl said Avery, 41, also told her that "the Explorer post could probably raise more money if she wore a bikini top in the future" at fundraising events, according to sheriff's office reports.

    The girl reported the comments to another Explorer adviser, who told fire administrators. They called in deputies to see if a crime was committed. Deputies investigated and determined that no crime occurred.

    Avery admitted to deputies that he touched the girl on the knee and said "This is sexy," according to sheriff's office reports. But he denied making other comments.

    Avery, a 15-year department veteran who has been an Explorer adviser for two years, told deputies the comments were taken out of context. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

    The girl said the comments were made as she counted money in Avery's truck. No one else heard the comments, which she said were unsolicited and unwelcome. She said there were no previous incidents of this nature.

    Deputy Fire Chief Scott Magness said he will investigate the allegations to determine if Avery violated any department rules. He said the Explorer program, which has been in place about three years, has a sexual harassment policy.

    Fire officials gave Avery an afternoon off with pay "so he could clear his head," but won't place him on administrative leave. He is expected to report to work Friday, though he won't be allowed to have contact with Explorers, Magness said.

    Avery also won't work as an Explorer adviser while the investigation is ongoing, though he could retain that position if the allegations are unfounded, Magness said.

    Magness said he also will interview former female Explorer members to see if there were similar occurences.

    "One of three things is happening here," Magness said. "The first is that it's all unsubstantiated. The second thing is there was an incredible lack of judgment. And the third is it was outright sexual harassment, which means intentional. I don't know which of those it is.

    "We are taking it very seriously," he added. "If these things are substantiated, there's going to be consequences."

    Magness said Avery has been a good adviser. The girl also told investigating deputies that Avery is a hard-working and dedicated adviser.

    "He's done great things with it and he's really stayed interested and motivated," Magness said.

    - Chris Tisch can be reached at (727) 445-4156.

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