Acting Flagler Beach fire chief charged with obstruction of justice

BUNNELL, Fla. – Channel 4 has learned of more allegations of misconduct inside the Flagler Beach Fire Department. Just months ago, a number of fire fighters were terminated for drinking on the job. Now, the acting chief of the Flagler Beach Department is in legal trouble of his own.

Robert Pace is accused of obstruction an officer without violence and destroying records of community service hours a probation officer believed were falsified.

According to court records, Pace -- assigned to head the department after the previous fire chief and three other firefighters were fired for drinking on the job during an office Christmas party -- is accused of falsifying documents of how much work an employee at the fire station who was on parole had completed. He's also accused with destroying videotapes that showed how many hours that employee had worked.

The state has decided not to pursue the felony charge against Pace for tampering with physical evidence.  Channel 4 learned that Pace has been put on administrative leave until further notice.

When Channel 4 contacted the Flagler Beach City Manager about the matter, we received this statement:

"Acting Chief Pace has been placed on administrative leave and will remain there until this is resolved. Period."

The news of Pace was unsettling to residents of the small Flagler Beach community, who have already seen multiple firings in the department when firefighters were found to be drinking and then responding to a call.

"I don't know what the mentality is," said Flagler County resident Nancy Brosche. "Seems to be a lot of cover ups of what they do Seems to be going on a while. Just like the ordeal during Christmas with them drinking on the job. Makes you wonder what exactly is going on."

Flagler Beach police has been investigating the fire department since earlier this year.

In March, Pace, 41, was accused of falsely awarding community service work hours to probationer Vitaly Tsabak on at least five occasions. The Florida Department of Corrections approved the Flagler Beach Fire Department as a location to earn community service hours, and Pace was the supervisor responsible for signing off on those hours. But when Tsabak turned in this hours, the probation officer became suspicious because the timing and duration of some of the shifts.

Another firefighter who viewed video surveillance for the hours in question and reported only seeing Tsabak leaving after one hour. When a complaint was filed and police arrived to obtain the video, police report some of the video files were deleted.

The obstruction of justice charge is a first-degree misdemeanor. If convicted, Pace faces up to a year in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine, along with up to a year's probation.

Sarah and Larry Kerr have lived in Flagler beach since the late 90's and they think the department as a whole should merge with Flagler County Fire.

"I personally think we should put the fire department in the county, that would make more sense," said Sarah Kerr.

"If we were under the county, I think that would save a significant amount of money, and that would have the leadership needed to protect us as needs to be protected, so I think that's what needs to be done," said Larry Kerr.