Vanessa Coleman, a former captain for the DC Fire & EMS Department who claimed department officials violated her First Amendment rights and ordered her to undergo psychological evaluation as part of retaliation against her has had her lawsuit dismissed.
This is the case that revolves around the major fire at a Mt. Pleasant apartment building on March 12, 2008. Firefighters failed to discover in a timely manner that the fire began in the basement of the building. That failure was blamed on Captain Coleman who was in charge of Engine 21 at the time of the fire. The department’s SOP makes checking of the basement the responsibility of the second due engine. That engine is assigned to the rear of the structure. Capt. Coleman contends the radio traffic from the night of the fire shows her crew was ordered by the IC, Battalion Chief John Lee, to cover the third floor.
The controversy became public about eight months after the fire when the Government Accountability Project (GAP) took on Vanessa Colesman’s case. GAP is a whistleblower protection organization located in Washington. Click here for GAP’s summary of the case.
Michael Doyle, who a reporter for McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, has the legal affairs blog “Suits & Sentences”. Doyle wrote today about the opinion by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth:
Many disputes then ensued, as the department tried to figure out what happened and as then-Capt. Coleman made public her position. Chief Lee subsequently accepted an official reprimand. Coleman did not; she fought on.
Some of Coleman’s public comments were incendiary, and her bosses ordered her to undergo a pscyhological evaluation. She called that retaliation and refused. The department fired her in October 2009.
Judge Lamberth goes carefully through each element of the complaint; illustratively, he reasoned:
“Defendants claim that they acted in response to plainitff’s erratic, paranoid, and otherwise worrisome behavior – as manifested in the ‘barrage’ of dozens communications and memoranda which plaintiff documents in her filings in this case. These filings, as well as plaintiff’s other behavior, gave the defendants legitimate concern about plaintiff’s mental state, and her ability to safely command her company.”
On Monday, GAP announced in a press release it was in court that day with Theresa Cusick the former legal counsel for the DC Fire & EMS Department. Here’s how GAP describes Cusick’s case:
Cusick served as FEMS General Counsel until 2007, when she informed an Assistant US Attorney that a FEMS officer – who the attorney had been working with – was under investigation by the Washington, DC Office of Inspector General (DC OIG) for his alleged involvement in a cheating scandal at the FEMS Training Academy. Cusick raised concerns that neither FEMS nor the Office of the US Attorney should rely on the officer until he was cleared of any involvement.
Cusick also blew the whistle in 2007 to the DC OIG that then-Assistant DC Fire Chief Brian Lee ordered her not to communicate with either the DC OIG or the DC Office of the Attorney General (OAG), and attempted to cover up the fact that a fire investigator was being investigated by DC OIG.
After reporting Lee’s actions to DC OIG, OAG and DC Fire Chief Dennis Rubin, Cusick was transferred from her position as General Counsel purportedly at the request of then Fire Chief Dennis Rubin.
While we have not been able to find any coverage of Cusick’s day in court, it made news in 2009 when videotaped depositions of Chief Dennis Rubin were released by GAP.
Above is an excerpt of the deposition provided by GAP (more excerpts from the deposition here and here). Below is my coverage of the story for WUSA-TV which includes the response from the DC Fire & EMS Department.
Also on STATter911 …
- Ruling says case of DC EMT fired in 1997 to live on. Court allows suit over failing to reinstate & provide back pay eight-years-ago to continue. – November 3, 2012
- A most bizarre story from the Nation’s Capital: DC fire & police unions want investigation into personnel records dumped & burned at FD training academy. – May 23, 2012
- Jury rules for firefighters claiming cheating in 2010 Atlanta Fire Rescue promotional exam. Class action suit victory on behalf of 160 firefighters. City may appeal. – February 18, 2012
- DC police official sent email about ‘file burn’ day before records found on fire at fire department training academy. Fire & police unions trying to shed light on what’s behind document disposal. – May 24, 2012
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