OAKLAND, CA – A conditional job offer to a 48-year-old man to become an Oakland firefighter was withdrawn after it was confirmed he is a registered sex offender, officials said Friday.
Officials said it was Stephen Eldridge’s erratic behavior after he got the offer in late December that led them to his past rape conviction and him being required to register as a sex offender.
Officials said Eldridge showed up Jan. 4 at a fire station near his East Oakland home, acting strangely and returned the next day in a more agitated state, forcing police to be called. He was sent to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Officials said it was a concerned firefighter who researched and uncovered Eldridge’s previous history that led to the job offer being withdrawn.
Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hoffmann said Eldridge had wanted to be a firefighter for years and after applying to Oakland’s fire department had appeared before two oral boards, including one Hoffmann and Oakland fire Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed sat on.
Because he had not put anything about his prior conviction on his application, they were not aware of it when he appeared before them, Hoffmann said.
“He presented well in the interview,” Hoffmann said, adding that Eldridge spoke a lot about his work in the community. “He was trying to follow his dream.”
Eldridge had presented documentation to the city claiming he was a certified EMT and said he had done some ridealongs with Oakland firefighters in the past as well and may have taken fire training courses at a junior college, officials said.
“It looked like he did all the right stuff to prepare for the job,” Hoffmann said.
Officials said before the next fire academy started later this year, Eldridge would have had to go through a more thorough background check by the police department and a psychiatric evaluation, and that undoubtedly his past would have been caught.
Authorities said Eldridge was arrested in Oakland in 1990 on a variety of sex charges and in 1991 was convicted of rape and sentenced to a three-year prison term. He is no longer on parole. A police report stated he works at Wal-Mart.
A judge has granted the city’s request for a temporary restraining order against Eldridge; a court hearing is scheduled Jan. 29. Court papers filed by City Attorney Barbara Parker said Eldridge was known to ring the doorbell at fire stations and hide, once faked having a stab wound to his neck in order to get inside a station and showed up to a fire on High Street asking for gear to help put out the flames. While in the hospital on a psychiatric hold, he called several members of the fire department asking them to help get him a fire job, according to court records.
Officials said Eldridge went to city personnel offices on Thursday to plead his case. He apparently acted rationally and left on his own with no change in his status, officials said.
Hoffmann said, “We have rescinded his offer. We have not changed that.”
Dan Robertson, president of the Oakland firefighters union, said when you consider the trust the community has in its firefighters that the department is very proud of, you would “hope that (fire) administration and (city) human resources would have done a better job of considering who they are giving a job of such high honor to.”