Previous story: Lt. Alvarado asks Chief Ellerbe to deal fairly with firefighters
UPDATE: The ACLU made comments about the case of Lt. Alvarado & sent a letter to DC’s Attorney General about the recent demotion and transfer of two battalion chiefs who handled discipline in the firehouse beer incident last year. Read the latest from Andrea Noble at The Washington Times.
NOTE: There also news on another DC Fire & EMS Department story. The latest on”watergate” later this evening.
The U.S. Department of Justice issued a letter in May to law enforcement about interfering with the rights of the press and the public to take pictures and video in public places. A federal appeals court issued a ruling almost a year ago that also makes it pretty clear government officials shouldn’t mess with photographers in places where there isn’t an expectation of privacy. But a DC Fire & EMS Department lieutenant who went public with his complaint about Chief Kenneth Ellerbe’s multiple changes in uniform policy has been suspended and demoted for, among other things, failing to tell a TV crew to stop rolling its cameras during a medical emergency on a public street. Robert Alvarado told a reporter today that he has been found guilty of violating the “Patient Care Bill of Rights”.
If the DC Fire & EMS Department actually expects its firefighters to start asking or telling the press and the public to stop shooting pictures then Chief Ellerbe must want to be in the running for the Minister … or rather Secretary of Information job (AKA National Editor-in-Chief) I nominated Larimer County, Colorado Sheriff Justin Smith for. As you know, I threw my support behind Sheriff Smith for this post when he asked news crews to stop shooting burning homes and then put restrictions on the press in covering the tragic wildfires. But I have to tell you those pesky lawyers like Curt Varone at FireLawBlog.com keep writing that the First Amendment doesn’t mean it’s up to the government to decide “first” what we can and can’t take pictures of. Really? And who knew that HIPAA or the Patient Care Bill of Rights doesn’t trump THE Bill of Rights? How come I didn’t get that memo?
And now Art Spitzer, the legal director for the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, is getting in on the act claiming the fire department can’t tell people to turn off their cameras and can’t keep employees from talking to the press. What? Here’s more from the article by Andrea Noble at The Washington Times:
As the interview was taking place on a public sidewalk in front of the fire station, Mr. Spitzer wrote that, “Neither Lt. Alvarado nor anyone else — including Fire Chief Ellerbe, had he been present — had any power to tell Fox News to turn off its cameras.”
Among the other charges brought against Lt. Alvarado, but not ruled on, was a charge based on a department order that had been ruled unconstitutional in a 1990 court case.
The order declared that department employees could not give interviews while on duty without prior written permission from a public affairs officer. In a 1990 lawsuit brought by the firefighters union, the U.S. District Court for the District “found that regulation to be an unconstitutional prior restraint on firefighters’ freedom of speech and prohibited the Department ‘from enforcing [the] regulation in the future,’” Mr. Spitzer wrote.
Robert Alvarado says he was informed that he should have stopped the camera from rolling and then dealt with the patient.
As for Alvarado, he told Fox 5/WTTG-TV reporter Paul Wagner he was also punished for wearing a jacket with the wrong insignia on a cold day at the department’s training academy. Alvarado say he gets six and half weeks off without pay and is demoted to sergeant for both the patient confidentiality and uniform infractions.
You may recall when the whole uniform flap appeared, Alvarado challenged the chief to supply compliant outwear after the many changes in the uniform policy due to Chief Ellerbe’s decision to revert to an older department patch. Alvarado told Wagner that he believes the discipline is retaliation for his previous statements to the reporter about the chief. Here’s an excerpt from a January 21 report:
“I know it looks like a Home Shopping Network display here, but this is what we have gone through,” said Lieutenant Robert Alvarado with Truck 13, showing FOX 5 on a table all of the winter weather gear he has purchased that is now no longer compliant with the uniform policy. “We started out at the end of the year with this t-shirt here and this sweatshirt here and both were an acceptable uniform item. As of January 1st, these items are done, can’t wear them. This jacket as well because it has DCFD on the back, and this is a winter jacket purchased with my own money which makes me clearly identifiable as a member of the department. That’s no longer good.”
According to reporter Wagner, Chief Ellerbe declined to comment for today’s story because Alvarado has the right to appeal.
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