Charlotte hires attorney to conduct Fire Department investigation

The city of Charlotte has hired Greensboro attorney Allison Van Laningham to conduct an investigation as to whether the Charlotte Fire Department retaliated against a former employee for complaining about the conditions at an office building.

Former fire investigator Crystal Eschert said the city terminated her because she acted as a whistleblower in raising safety concerns about a building being renovated on North Graham Street.

The city has denied this. It said Eschert was fired for what it said was an offensive Facebook post about the aftermath of the police shooting in Ferguson, Mo. In her post, Eschert used words such as “thug,” “a waste” and “worthless.”

Eschert is the first person fired for violating the city’s social media policy.

City Manager Ron Carlee has defended the firing but said he takes the claim of retaliation seriously. Van Laningham will be paid $300 an hour, plus $150 an hour for a legal assistant.

There is no deadline to complete the investigation, but the city said it’s working “swiftly” to complete the probe.

In 2010, the city hired an outside attorney to investigate claims of sexual harassment against former Charlotte City Council member Warren Turner. Valecia McDowell interviewed numerous city officials, reviewed emails and handwritten notes and also checked landline phone records to corroborate employee interviews.

Van Laningham was part of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ defense team in his 2012 trial for campaign finance violations that ended in a mistrial.

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