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Acting Lieutenant of Milwaukee Fire Department charged with sexually assaulting female firefighter

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- An Acting-Lieutenant for the Milwaukee Fire Department has been placed on paid leave, after being charged with sexually assaulting a female-coworker.

35-year-old Michael Peden was arrested Saturday, and charged with second degree sexual assault. 

Fire officials offered a brief statement Thursday, but did not take any questions

    "The Milwaukee fire department takes any claims against discrimination sexual-harassment very seriously we have zero tolerance for that," said Assistant Fire Chief Gerard Washington.

According to a criminal complaint, the abuse started in May, when the female firefighter began working at Engine House 26, on Milwaukee's southside. 

She claims Peden began making racist comments, and calling her a "piece of s***" on a daily basis, at one point saying "based on [her] gender, [she] was not strong enough to be a firefighter.”

In August the victim asked to be transferred out of Engine 26 because of verbal abuse, but could not be moved immediately. 

During a monthly evaluation in September that was completed by Peden, the victim said that he gave her low scores in everything.

According to the criminal complaint, Peden threw things on the floor and told her it was her job to keep the firehouse clean. Peden then backed the victim into a wall in the kitchen and grabbed her left breast.

Three days later, while the rest of the firehouse was out on a call, Peden allegedly approached the victim and forcibly took her hand and put it on his clothed penis. The victim pulled away and yelled "stop" to which Peden replied, "come on, you still have to prove yourself." The victim then says Peden grabbed her vagina and held on before she could get away and run downstairs. 

Peden's attorney, Rebecca Coffee, says they plan on fighting the claims. 

    "Mr. Peden absolutely denies all of the allegations that have been filed against him. He maintains his innocence 100 percent.," she says. "He has a very good reputation as a Milwaukee firefighter. There have never been complaints against him of this type made, and he 100% maintains his innocense."

Mayor Tom Barrett called for Peden to be fired Thursday morning.

    “I want that guy out of here," he said. “I’m going to look and see why there was that time lag. I want to make sure that if we have this type of behavior, that it’s investigated immediately. I don’t want months to go by, I want it investigated immediately.”

Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing declined to answer questions at City Hall Thursday night. 

According to the criminal complaint the victim lost about 30 pounds during the time of the sexual abuse and her physical appearance changed.


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