JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A district fire chief jailed after a second DUI arrest continued to receive his pay while in jail for 31 days, News4Jax investigators learned.
Jacksonville Fire-Rescue District Chief Jason Tidwell was arrested last December after his car became stuck in a ditch off County Road 217 in Clay County. He was put on desk duty at fire headquarters and was just finishing up probation for that offense when he was arrested March 27 on suspicious of DUI.
At the time, then Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt said Tidwell was placed on unauthorized leave while he was being held in the Clay County Jail.
Months later, a tip led News4Jax to review Tidwell's pay records, and his $4,139 paycheck issued every two weeks continued while serving time in jail. He did receive fewer hours during the two payroll periods he was in jail, but his base, 80-hour pay continued.
Fire officials said will be deducted from his accumulated leave time.
"According to our records, he was paid, which is a normal practice for us when somebody gets arrested and is innocent until proven guilty," JFRD Chief Kurt Wilson. "We allow them to earn their leave while they work on the court case while they are temporarily incarcerated, which is usually a day or two."
But records show that Tidwell was held for 13 days after his arrest in March and 18 days after he was found guilty of the DUI charge, yet his pay was stopped.
Wilson said that's still within the civil-service rules.
"What happens then he enters into our disciplinary process, and at the time, that was a written letter of reprimand for something that happened off-duty," Wilson said. "Now if it happened on duty, then we would have the ability to give them an authorized leave or leave without pay. But being that this happened off-duty, we give them the presumption of innocence."
Tidwell is back at work and as a district chief. His job requires him to drive a department vehicle and he does have a license restricted to business use only, which he can drive to and from work and on the job.
DOCUMENT: Jason Tidwell's driving record
Wilson was asked about a perception that the department is bending over backward to keep Tidwell.
"You know civil service. It is what it is," Wilson said. "Again, this was an off-day conviction, a misdemeanor conviction. It had nothing to do with the fire department. This is the most serious punishment we could handout for a DUI case. This is the first DUI conviction we've had a number of years. We felt we dealt with it harshly."
Newsr4Jax asked Tidwell for his response, but he did not want to comment. The president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters said the union does not have a problem with how Tidwell's case was handled.