Former paramedics file civil rights lawsuit

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SANDPOINT — Three former Bonner County EMS paramedics who mutinied in an unsuccessful bid to force their chief out have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county.

Matthew Avidan, Matthew Schreiber and Matthew Honsinger contend their constitutionally-protected rights to free speech and due process were violated when they were sacked. The three maintain they were fired in retaliation for expressing a lack of confidence in Chief Rob Wakeley.

The suit was filed in Idaho’s U.S. District Court on April 19. It seeks a jury trial, unspecified damages for lost wages and nominal damages for the violation of their civil rights.

County Commissioners Lewis Rich and Cornel Rasor are named as defendants, as is Wakeley and former Commissioner Joe Young.

“The allegations are baseless,” said Rasor, the board’s chairman and EMS liaison.

The plaintiffs claim Wakeley was originally hired to be the department’s budget and business manager, but he expanded his role to include serving as a licensed paramedic. All three plaintiffs were already employees when Wakeley was hired in 2009, with Avidan serving as deputy chief and Honsinger and Schreiber ultimately being promoted to lieutenant.

By early 2010, the suit said, the trio began raising concerns to county commissioners about Wakeley’s competency as a paramedic and alleged that he posed a danger to the community.

The plaintiffs assert that commissioners assured them that they would not be subject to retaliation for the claims made against Wakeley. They maintain that they were encouraged to relinquish their supervisory roles, but to stay on as front-line EMS providers. They followed the advice, but ended up being fired, the suit alleges.

Counsel for Avidan, Schreiber and Honsinger argue their clients’ right to freely express their concerns about Wakeley were violated. Their right to due process was also violated because they expected to stay on as employees, but were fired and denied any avenue of recourse, the suit alleges.

Commissioners consistently stood by Wakeley amid the strife. Moreover, the department’s medical director, Dr. Ronald Jenkins, reviewed calls Wakeley responded to and determined that claims about his clinical incompetence were “unfounded.”

County officials contend the department has thrived under Wakeley’s leadership and point to a laundry list of improvements that have been implemented under his watch. They include strategic planning, progressive patient care protocols and implementation of a leading-edge system for treating and transporting heart attack patients in a predominately rural community.

Employee turnover reduced from 30 percent to just 7 percent.

“They’ve made great strides,” said Rasor, adding that the department’s level of service has only improved over the years.

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