By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

A longtime Gilbert firefighter accused of sexually molesting an 8-year-old girl on Easter Sunday during a 50th birthday party is scheduled for a May 3 preliminary hearing.

Capt. Michael William Palmatier, 47, faced three felony counts of sexual conduct with a minor, kidnapping and indecent exposure, according to Maricopa County court documents.

A judge approved a court-appointed attorney and set bail at $250,000 for Palmatier.

The judge also mandated conditions if he made bail and is released from the county’s Fourth Avenue Jail.

Palmatier would need to wear an electronic ankle monitor, be monitored for alcohol and drug use and have no contact with the victim, her family, witnesses or any minors.  Palmatier did not speak at the court appearance.

Palmatier also was ordered to find another place to reside because the victim lived in the same Queen Creek neighborhood.

Gilbert spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison in a released statement said the town was aware of the arrest and pointed out the alleged incident occurred when Palmatier was off duty.

She said Palmatier worked for Gilbert from Oct. 22, 1997 to April 24, 2019.

“Prior to his arrest, he resigned from employment with the Town of Gilbert,” she stated.  

Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Palmatier, a fire captain, at 7:49 a.m. April 24 at the Gilbert Fire and Rescue Department’s administration building. He was handcuffed immediately after first meeting privately with fire command staff and personnel.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was contacted April 21 by the victim’s family after the girl disclosed the alleged assault.

The second-grader told investigators she was asleep in her aunt’s bedroom and awoke to a man sexually molesting her, according to the probable cause statement.

The man, whom she later identified as Palmatier, also exposed himself to her, according to the document.

The girl tried to escape but Palmatier “grabbed her arm and said ‘wait,’” but she forcefully yanked her arm away and ran into a bathroom where she locked the door, the statement says.

Once the door was locked, Palmatier said, “please forgive me,” to the girl, who responded she would if he gave back her shorts, which he did not do, the document said

At some point, the girl unlocked the door and Palmatier was no longer in the room. She saw a relative and called for help.

According to an unnamed Gilbert firefighter who was at the party and has known Palmatier since 1998 when they both attended medic school together, Palmatier has a “serious drug and alcohol issues” and was drinking on the day of the alleged crime.

He also told investigators that Palmatier once taught at the college level and “has a penchant for young females around college-age.”

In building a case, investigators arranged for people who knew Palmatier to call and engage him in conversation over what allegedly occurred. The calls were taped.

In one conversation, Palmatier stated he was drunk and thought he was kissing someone else and not a child. When confronted the girl was 8, Palmatier “began uncontrollably crying and apologized” and stated “he let his demons get out.”

In a subsequent call with another person, Palmatier claimed he thought it was someone else and not a juvenile he had contact with.

The woman caller told Palmatier she didn’t believe he could confuse an 8-year-old girl with an adult woman and that she also didn’t believe he was drunk because he was able to make his way home.

“Michael admitted the entire thing was wrong but he would never knowingly do anything sexually to a juvenile,” the document said.

Palmatier told the caller he didn’t expect her to believe him and added, “Yeah, I have a sick side to me like a sexually sick side to me but not in that way,” according to the document.

Although Palmatier claimed not to recall molesting the youngster, he agreed with a caller that 8-year-olds don’t make up things like that and “he continued to narrate how he recalled every minute detail of when he was similarly victimized as a child,” the document said.

During the last several minutes of the one-party consent call, Palmatier said, “this isn’t me and I finally got caught,” according to the investigator.

The caller confronted Palmatier on that statement, and he replied he actually meant he “isn’t one of those people who fantasize about children and then get caught,” according to the probable cause statement.

The investigator noted Palmatier’s statement “did not fit the conversation direction, and sounded awkward.”

Gilbert Fire Captain Michael Palmatier resigned the day of his arrest on charges of molesting an 8-year-old girl. (Special to GSN)