FITCHBURG, WISCONSIN – A captain in the Fitchburg Fire Department has resigned amid allegations he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old high school student in a cadet program he supervised.
Robert Rittenhouse, 52, a 20-year department veteran, denied the allegations Wednesday, and an investigation by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office found no basis to file criminal charges after the cadet also denied that anything inappropriate occurred, said Sheriff Dave Mahoney.
But Fitchburg officials say they are conducting an internal investigation based on a 40-page report of the Sheriff’s Office investigation that suggests a history of inappropriate behavior by Rittenhouse involving underage youths and young men.
Rittenhouse, who was put on paid leave April 11, resigned effective July 31, said city administrator Tony Roach.
At his Madison home Wednesday, Rittenhouse said he has worked with young people in the Explorer and cadet program, and students at Madison Area Technical College, for more than 20 years and “nothing ever happened.”
Rittenhouse said he had also been the subject of an embezzlement investigation but was cleared and decided to retire because he “had enough.”
It has not been determined whether the cadet program will be offered during the coming school year, Roach said.
During the last school year, five Madison and McFarland high school students participated in the work-to-learn program that helps prepare students for careers in firefighting, Roach said.
According to the sheriff’s report:
A member of the cadet program said he saw numerous inappropriate text messages between Rittenhouse and another cadet on Rittenhouse’s cellphone between August 2011 and April 2012, including exchanges of “I love you.”
In another message, Rittenhouse allegedly told the cadet he was upset and crying because the cadet wasn’t spending enough time with him. Rittenhouse, who is friends with the cadet’s parents, bought a Firebird and other items for the cadet, who planned to eventually give Rittenhouse the money for it, and also let the cadet drive another car of his.
The cadet who reported the texts said he had experienced uncomfortable touching by Rittenhouse, who slapped his buttocks and pulled him by the waist so their bodies were touching during conversations.
A Fitch-Rona paramedic who had been in the Explorer program as a youth said Rittenhouse took him to a conference in 2003 when he was under 18, and their hotel room had just one bed.