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AFD fires paramedic; fight goes on

TATE: Lost job after series of incidents
TATE: Lost job after series of incidents
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To describe Brad Tate’s 10-year career with the Albuquerque Fire Department as stormy would be an understatement.

He had to mount a legal challenge to get into the department, proving he had been discriminated against because he is African-American. He became a paramedic and was promoted to lieutenant before being fired earlier this year.

In the intervening years, records show, he was arrested for disorderly conduct after an off-duty incident involving an alleged battery on two women; was disciplined for inappropriate comments he allegedly made at an Albuquerque grade school, for knocking another man unconscious during an off-duty altercation and for “smacking” a fellow firefighter with a spatula.

The department terminated Tate in January after an investigation into patient complaints about his conduct on 911 calls. Records show the internal inquiry dealt with allegations that he filed false reports and discouraged patients from being transported by ambulance to the hospital when they needed medical care.

Since his firing — which Tate is appealing — city officials have paid $300,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a 79-year-old man fatally injured in 2009 when his car collided with Tate’s rescue unit.

And the city has agreed to pay a $49,500 settlement involving a 16-year-old girl whose care by paramedic Tate last year launched the investigation that ended with his firing. Tate allegedly dismissed the girl’s perforated appendicitis as a “flu bug,” according to records.

The state New Mexico EMS Bureau is also investigating whether Tate’s paramedic’s license should be revoked.

Discrimination

Tate, 36, began his AFD career with a fight.

More than a decade ago, the department disqualified candidate Tate because he forgot to bring a required photo ID to the academy’s testing facility.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded the disqualification was discriminatory because a Hispanic applicant who also forgot his identification was allowed a second chance to continue the process.

To cure the wrong, the city permitted Tate to reapply to the Fire Academy. He joined the department and rose in the ranks to lieutenant.

Tate contends his current problems are also the result of discrimination.

He and two other fire department employees allege in a lawsuit filed April 8 that they have been treated differently from other non-minorities under investigation by the AFD. Two plaintiffs are African-American. The third is Hispanic. That lawsuit seeks monetary damages.

Tate’s attorney, former City Councilor Michael Cadigan, says that, during the five-month inquiry into Tate’s actions last year, the city discriminated against him by re-assigning him to perform “menial” tasks at the Fire Academy.

Another African-American paramedic who is suing the city was also placed on light duty that included housekeeping at the Fire Academy, the lawsuit alleges. At the time, the paramedic was experiencing post-traumatic stress related to her job and deaths in the family, some of which were violent and which she witnessed, the lawsuit states.

A separate appeal of Tate’s termination before a city hearing officer is set for July. And Cadigan has sued the city for allegedly violating the Inspection of Public Records Act in producing records involving the internal inquiry.

“Brad Tate has been treated unfairly at every step of this process,” Cadigan said in an email on Friday. “He was fired while other firefighters who committed more serious offenses were given less severe discipline or no discipline. I am confident he will be vindicated once the facts are reviewed by an independent person.”

Assistant City Attorney Rebecca Wardlaw, in an email response to Journal questions, defended the department’s actions.

She said the current senior managers cannot address the decisions of their predecessors who oversaw Tate’s work from 2002 to late 2009 — when Mayor Richard J. Berry took office.

But, she added, “The current Fire Administration strives to treat all employees fairly and appropriately without negative or preferential discrimination and believes it has done so.”

Wardlaw said AFD since 2010 and under the current administration has been promoting diversity by providing a “hiring preference for underrepresented ethnic backgrounds and most have been offered employment.”

Of 668 sworn firefighter positions, 17 are filled by African-Americans, she said.

Patient complaint

Tate was terminated a month after a Journal story last December based on records about complaints against him that were obtained through the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

The story also noted that Tate had a part-time airline ramp agent job in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he lives.

And it mentioned that his supervisors, in one email, took note of Internet news that mentioned Tate was a medical trainer for several international mixed martial arts fighters.

Last December, according to an exhibit filed in Tate’s discrimination lawsuit, fire department’s medical director Dr. Drew Harrell withdrew “all medical control and oversight” over Tate’s EMS duties while he was with the fire department.

Harrell is the supervising physician for Albuquerque Fire Department paramedics.

Harrell, in a Dec. 17 letter, told Tate that he arrived at “this difficult decision” after reviewing the findings of an internal investigation that began with “an initial concern” Harrell had over Tate’s care of the 16-year-old girl.

Tate deemed the “16-year old with abdominal pain and vomiting for 24 hours to have a ‘soft, tender abdomen from throwing up’ with a ‘flu bug’ when, in fact, she was found the next morning to have perforated appendicitis requiring multiple days in the hospital,” Harrell wrote.

The girl is the daughter of an Albuquerque firefighter who has refused Journal requests for an interview.

Harrell, in his letter last December, also noted Tate’s care of a 77-year-old man who had fallen and exhibited a “softball-size hematoma” or bruise on his head.

The patient’s blood pressure was 209/129, but Tate deemed the man’s condition “not of concern,” because he had not been taking his blood pressure medication, Harrell’s letter said.

So the patient apparently wasn’t transported to the hospital. “This blood pressure is not considered normal for any level of hypertension,” Harrell wrote.

Overall, the AFD internal investigation uncovered inappropriate care that “grossly deviates” from both accepted city and county EMS protocols and state EMS practice guidelines, Harrell’s letter stated.

The inquiry also found “evidence of falsification of EMS documentation on multiple events in just a 6 month retrospective review of your calls from January to June 2012 among other findings,” Harrell told Tate in the letter.

Cadigan, in the lawsuit filed last month, said Tate “performed adequately during his employment.”

Tate never refused to transport ill patients, Cadigan said in a recent interview, adding, “He told patients that going to the emergency room in an ambulance doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get seen first.”

Cadigan added that Tate advised noncritical patients of their right to have a family member take them.

The family of the 16-year-old also signed a “waiver of transport” and agreed to take the child to the emergency room, Cadigan added.

City paramedics respond to 911 calls and assess patients’ conditions. Typically, patients who need further care are transported by the private company, Albuquerque Ambulance.

Fatal crash

Before the internal investigation was launched last year, Tate and the city were defending his actions in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by two daughters of William Rauch.

Rauch, 79, died nearly a week after his car collided with the rescue vehicle driven by Tate the evening of Sept. 1, 2009.

Rauch was traveling west on Central, had the green light and was hit as he proceeded into the intersection.

Some witnesses reported that the rescue vehicle, which was heading north on Unser, had been responding to an emergency call but had turned off its sirens and emergency lights after entering the intersection.

Tate said at a deposition in the case that the call was canceled moments before he entered the intersection but that he was “positive” the lights and sirens were still on when the crash occurred. He said he didn’t see Rauch’s car until it was too late.

The Albuquerque Police Department investigation seemed to put the blame on Rauch for failing to yield, noting that he had undergone a heart procedure that same morning and shouldn’t have been driving.

“The City of Albuquerque took the position that because Mr. Rauch had a poor heart condition and short life expectancy, there was not a high value on his life,” said Albuquerque attorney Matthew O’Neill, who represented Rauch’s two daughters.

O’Neill’s lawsuit contended Tate was negligent in failing to properly look out for oncoming traffic.

“The family made a decision to settle this claim when faced with a trial that would in no way honor the name of their father and would only serve to bring them more grief over their loss,” O’Neill said.

Wardlaw said the city admits no liability in the case.

Suspensions

Tate’s deposition in the Rauch lawsuit in April 2012 revealed his sometimes troubled past and could explain part of the city’s reluctance to take the Rauch case to trial.

According to his deposition testimony:

Tate, a Texas native, was arrested twice in the past, once in Kansas prior to his joining the AFD, and after an incident that occurred on his birthday in April 2004.

Nothing came of the misdemeanor out-of-state case which involved “distress,” Tate said.

Tate was arrested in 2004 for disorderly conduct involving an Albuquerque police officer who was investigating an alleged assault of two women at an Albuquerque bar.

Tate didn’t recall the details at deposition, saying only, “It was a bad night. I was drinking.” But he denied any battery on the women.

The criminal charge was later dismissed, court records show, but Tate received a 30-day suspension from the AFD related to statements he gave investigators looking into the incident.

He said he was also disciplined on March 9, 2006, after an incident at Bandelier Elementary School. “I was joking on an EMS call and a teacher took offense to it,” Tate explained.

O’Neill said during the deposition that there were allegations at the time that Tate “made sexual comments to her or about some of the teachers.” Tate said he didn’t remember what was said.

Asked about an August 2006 incident involving another firefighter, Tate said at the deposition that “words were exchanged … we just had a difference of opinion.”

Two years later, Tate was involved in an alleged verbal and physical altercation with a different firefighter at an Albuquerque fire station.

“I smacked him with a spatula,” Tate said.

Tate was also asked about an August 2004 off-duty altercation outside the Frontier Restaurant on Central after which he was detained for a time by Albuquerque police.

“Got into a fight and that was it,” Tate said at the deposition.

“You knocked them unconscious?” plaintiffs’ attorney O’Neill asked.

“Yes,” Tate replied.

Tate said he stopped drinking alcohol after that incident. No criminal charges were filed, but he received a 45-day suspension from the fire department.

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