(KRON) — The City of San Jose released a 100-page final investigation report into the Pink Poodle strip club scandal involving four on-duty firemen who gave a bikini-clad woman, and a photographer, a ride in their engine.
The scandal blew open last year when an Instagram video exposed a San Jose Fire Department engine with its emergency lights on parked at The Pink Poodle’s entrance. The video posted by “San Jose Foos” showed a woman wearing only a bikini and high heals stepping out of the fire engine and walking into the strip club.
“Only in San Jose do you see a stripper come out of a firetruck,” the video’s caption wrote.
Investigators discovered that The Pink Poodle was one of two adult entertainment establishments that Fire Engine 4 went to on the night of October 5, 2022, despite receiving zero calls for service during that time period, according to the report.
The report released by the city to KRON4 on Tuesday identifies the four firefighters as: Fire Captain William Tognozzi, Fire Engineer Brian Dragges, Firefighter Matthew Westcott, and Fire Engineer Zach Clark. The firefighters told investigators that they gave two Pink Poodle employees rides in their engine.
One of The Pink Poodle employees was a photographer and a friend of Tognozzi.
The second Pink Poodle employee is only referred to in the report as “unidentified woman.” “During their administrative interviews, each (firefighter) interviewed provided that they did not know her, nor did they learn her name,” the report states.
‘Awkward Silent Ride’ With Pink Poodle Employee
Captain Tognozzi told investigators that the woman said, “Give me a ride. I want a ride.” He decided to give her a short ride to “appease her,” the report states. In hindsight, Tognozzi admitted that he made a “poor decision.”
Tognozzi is quoted in the report describing the ride as “an awkward silent ride.” After the woman returned to the strip club, Dragges said the overall feeling was, “What the heck was that?”
None of the four firefighters could explain why, after “appeasing” the woman, their engine left the strip club and went to a bikini bar.
When the “San Jose Foos” video popped up on Instagram on October 6, 2022, Fire Chief Sapien asked the four firefighters to write memorandums about what happened. Investigators wrote in the final report, “Upon review of the memorandums, it was notable that none of them referred to any discomfort with the situation,” as they later claimed during interviews with investigators.
Blowback from the scandal and investigation resulted in Captain Tognozzi being demoted to the rank of engineer. “Under your direction, two unauthorized passengers boarded Fire Engine 4 for reasons unrelated (to) city business. City-provided equipment was used to conduct unofficial city business,” Fire Chief Robert Sapien wrote to Tognozzi. He was disciplined for misconduct, failing to perform his duties, failing to follow SJFD rules, and misusing city property, according to the report.
The 4-man crew was assigned to the San Jose Fire Department’s Fire Engine 4 B-Shift.
Fire Station 4 received zero calls for service between 9 p.m. and 9:20 p.m., according to the National Fire Incident Reporter System. “There was no call for service in that area and Fire Engine 4 was not dispatched to any location during the relevant time period. Any trip that was taken was voluntary and at the discretion of Tognozzi,” the report states.
Firetruck’s GPS Data Uncovered Bikini Bar
Investigators said GPS data from the firetruck revealed that it stopped at The Pink Poodle, San Jose’s only fully nude strip club, as well as AJ’s Restaurant & Bar, “another adult entertainment club that describes itself online as a bikini bar.”
When the firefighters were asked to explain why they also stopped at the bikini bar, “none was able to provide a substantive explanation. Most strikingly, none of the four crew members acknowledge being there,” investigators wrote in the report.
Togonzzi simply said, “I don’t know what to tell you,” the report states.
GPS location data from the firetruck pinpointed exactly where the engine went during the trip:
- 9 p.m.: Engine leaves Fire Station 4
- 9:06 p.m.: Engine arrives at The Pink Poodle on Bascom Avenue
- 9:06 p.m. – 9:10 p.m.: Engine drives around the block, parks in front of The Pink Poodle for a second time, and leaves the strip club
- 9:14 p.m.: Engine arrives at AJ’s Restaurant and Bikini Bar at 1111 Auzerais Avenue
- 9:16 p.m.: Engine leaves AJ’s Restaurant and Bikini Bar
- 9:20 p.m.: Engine arrives back at Fire Station 4
When the firefighters were asked by investigators if the fire engine made any stops between leaving The Pink Poodle, and arriving back at Fire Station 4, they all replied that they had no memory of stopping at AJ’s.
Captain Tognozzi wrote a summary of what happened on Oct. 5, 2022. “A friend/professional photographer of E4B’s came by the station to deliver crew photos,” he wrote. The photographer also worked at The Pink Poodle, where he had a flash drive with more photographs for the firefighters. “We offered to take him by to retrieve his thumb drive. The photographer called a co-worker and asked her to bring out the thumb drive when the engine pulled up. The co-worker was very excited to see the fire engine and jumped in and requested a ride around the block. E4 obliged,” Tognozzi wrote.
Firefighters Never Got The Flash Drive
The entire premise of the fire engine’s trip to the strip club and bikini bar was to retrieve a flash drive from the photographer, the firefighters told investigators. But once the fire engine arrived back at Fire Station 4 with the photographer, the photographer left with the flash drive. The flash drive contained professional-style headshots of the firefighters that were intended to be used for a yearbook, according to the report.
Firefighter Clark was asked if he thought the incident was consistent with SJFD policy. Clark responded, “Ah man, obviously no, it wasn’t a good look or the right thing to do.”
The City of San Jose was ordered by a judge to publicly release the 100-page report after the city was sued by The Mercury News.