'Selfie war' victim demands $200K
The demand was made "because of the negligence and inexcusable conduct of Okaloosa County EMS," according to the victim's lawyer
By Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News
OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. — The first of a large group of Okaloosa County paramedic "selfie war" victims has demanded reparation from county commissioners.
McKenzie Law Firm of Pensacola submitted a "notice of claim" letter to the Board of County Commissioners and Okaloosa County EMS in late September requesting $200,000 for its client, who attorney J. Alistair McKenzie asked the Daily News not to identify.
The demand was made "because of the negligence and inexcusable conduct of Okaloosa County EMS who work on behalf of the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners," according to the letter.
The 39-year-old victim, who court records indicate lives in Crestview, discovered following a Nov. 17, 2015, ride in the back of an ambulance that an Okaloosa EMT had taken photos of her without her consent, the letter states.
"As you are aware, this was part of the juvenile, sick, and inappropriate game known as the 'selfie war' competition which was going on for months at Okaloosa County EMS," the law firm's letter said. "Due to the breach of ... privacy and illegal publication of her protected information she has been injured."
The selfie war was uncovered in May 2016 when three whistleblowers at EMS division went to their superiors with information regarding fellow employees.
It was learned Christopher Wimmer and Kayla Renee Dubois were engaged in a competition that involved taking photos or videos of patients inside their ambulances.
Many of the victims were intubated, sedated or unconscious at the time, Sheriff Larry Ashley said at a July press conference announcing the arrests of Wimmer and Dubois.
A group of five EMT's and paramedics shared the 64 videos and 101 photos taken during the selfie war, Ashley said. Three more EMS employees were dismissed with Wimmer and Dubois for their less aggressive participation.
Ashley identified 41 patient victims of the selfie war.
Of the 41, two later died and three more were determined to have willingly participated in the photography. The remaining 36 patients ranged in age from 24 to 86, with 19 women and 17 men victimized, Ashley said.
Asked Tuesday if he had other selfie war victim clients, McKenzie answered "possibly."
The notice of claim letter the county received is sent to waive the sovereign immunity to which state entities are entitled, McKenzie said. The county has six months to respond.
McKenzie said the county has not yet responded to his demand letter, which he found somewhat surprising given the circumstances of the selfie war.
"The typical route is you send the government agency the letter and they ignore you," he said. "But in this case it's pretty egregious what happened. You'd think the county would want to take some action to right the wrong."
Although County Attorney Greg Stewart was out of town this week on vacation, County Commissioner Nathan Boyles on Tuesday confirmed receipt of the notice of claim letter when he commented on it in his monthly newsletter.
"Wars are expensive, apparently, even selfie wars," Boyles said.
Boyles reminded his readers that the EMS employees had paid a cost both legally and professionally for their antics, with Dubois receiving a probated criminal sentence and Wimmer being sent to jail for six months. But he warned county taxpayers they too could receive a bill for the EMS staffers' transgressions.
"It looks like it may also cost you some money," he said.
The commissioner opined that $200,000 seemed a steep price for photos that weren't publicly distributed and only circulated among a small group of county employees.
"The demand, if paid, would represent a sizable bite out of the public safety budget, and there will no doubt be other claims from other victims," the newsletter said. "Ambulance rides in Okaloosa County may get more expensive than they already are, all thanks to the juvenile shenanigans of two paramedics who abused a position of trust."
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