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Chicago firefighter accused of sexual battery against student in firehouse

Chicago Fire Department

A Chicago firefighter is accused of committing sexual battery against a college student visiting the station for a ride-along. | Sun-Times file photo

A Chicago firefighter accused of sexually harassing a City Colleges student participating in a ride-along program while training to become a paramedic.

A paramedic-in-charge accused of using excessive force against a recalcitrant patient.

And police communications operators at the city’s 911 emergency center who used family leave to take Caribbean cruises.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s latest quarterly report is packed with disturbing details.

The most striking case involves the firefighter, who apparently didn’t get the memo about the #MeToo scandal that has snared men in Hollywood, politics, business, the culinary world and the news media.

As always, Ferguson’s report does not include the names of the accused or the victims. But the details are disturbing enough, particularly because the victim was a wide-eyed City Colleges student training to become a paramedic.

“While on duty and eating dinner in the firehouse, the firefighter made lewd comments and rubbed the student’s thigh and genitals while they were seated together at a dinner table,” the report states.

The student promptly alerted her parents, the police and the City Colleges supervisor of academic programs; all confirmed for the IG the student’s “consistent version of events,” the report states.

The firefighter admitted sitting next to the student during dinner, but “did not recall details of the interaction,” the IG wrote.  The state’s attorney’s office subsequently charged the firefighter with one count of misdemeanor battery. At a bench trial, a judge found the firefighter not guilty.

The Chicago Fire Department nevertheless followed Ferguson’s recommendation to discharge the firefighter and place the firefighter on the do-not-hire list.

The family leave abuse is unnerving for a different reason. Abuse of the Family and Medical Leave Act has been a chronic problem at the 911 center, but one that the Emanuel administration had claimed to be getting under control.

Apparently not.

Ferguson claims three police communications operators used “intermittent family leave” to take a Caribbean cruise together in July 2017.

Records and testimony shows the three operators booked the cruise almost a year in advance, but never submitted the appropriate request for time off.

One of the accused operators “submitted a doctor’s note to justify using family leave for the time off.” The doctor “recommended bed rest and did not know” about the ruse.

Another operator requested time off to undergo a surgical procedure that was merely an excuse.

“While on the cruise, the three [operators] consumed alcohol, went to numerous restaurants, attended night clubs, toured Caribbean islands, went horseback riding, rode jet skis and even went on a booze cruise,” the report states.

The investigation also established that, in addition to the 2017 cruise, two of the accused operators “took a combined 10 cruises using sick leave and/or FMLA leave dating back as far as 2010,” the report states.

A fourth police communications operator was accused in a separate investigation of using “a total of 19 family leave days to take two Caribbean cruises in 2014 and 2017,” the report states.

Instead of submitting legitimate requests for time off, the operator used doctor’s notes claiming “flare-ups of a medical condition as a pretext to use FMLA leave,” the report states.

Interviewed by investigators, that fourth operator “admitted the family leave was just to get away.”

The first three operators were fired. The fourth resigned.

The allegations that a paramedic-in-charge used excessive force on a patient who had refused treatment is troubling, both for the allegations of violence and for the fire department’s reaction to it.

Ferguson claims the paramedic-in-charge “quickly and forcefully twisted the patient’s head more than 90 degrees” and “pushed it against the wall” while unsuccessfully attempting to persuade the patient to consent to treatment.”

The incident was captured by body cameras worn by responding police officers, who subsequently subdued the patient with a Taser.

The paramedic claimed to have used the “minimal amount of force to prevent the patient from spitting on the paramedic.” Ferguson didn’t buy it.

“The paramedic clearly acted out of anger as the paramedic simultaneously threatened the patient with profane language, saying, `Don’t spit in my face motherf—–. You got it?’”

Ferguson concluded the paramedic’s use of force ran contrary to city training and exposed Chicago taxpayers to potential liability. The fire department agreed the paramedic’s actions violated the department’s code of conduct.

“CFD noted, however, that the paramedic faced a combative patient in a crowded and narrow stairwell and described the paramedic’s conduct as a visceral reaction to a combative patient,” the report states.

“CFD further concluded that the appropriate penalty was written reprimand.”