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Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Former Albuquerque paramedic and mixed martial arts cutman Brad Tate fought his way into the Albuquerque Fire Department by taking legal action. His protracted legal fight to try to keep his job has cost the city more than $330,000.
Tate, an AFD lieutenant with a decadelong career, was fired in 2013 after the city Personnel Board found he had provided substandard care, intimidated and bullied patients and their families and falsified records to show that patients who called 911 had refused care and transportation.
In one case, the city paid a $49,500 settlement to a girl’s relatives who claimed Tate talked them out of having her taken to a hospital when she showed symptoms that he dismissed as a “flu bug.” In fact, she had a ruptured appendix.
Tate mounted a multipronged legal battle, contending the city violated his constitutional rights, discriminated against him, denied him due process and violated state law by depriving him of information so he could properly defend himself.
Last month, the city opted to settle the cases for $295,000 after a state district judge in December ruled that he had been fired in violation of a state employment law. The Court of Appeals in March rejected the city’s appeal of that ruling.
Under the settlement, according to city officials, Tate doesn’t get his job back.
Throughout the litigation, Tate denied any wrongdoing. He maintained his work behavior was part of the “culture” of the Fire Department.
But a city hearing officer found otherwise after listening to four days of testimony and reviewing 160 exhibits.
“The fact that patient care was not compromised to a greater extent due to his pervasively disruptive conduct is a testament to his co-workers and ambulance personnel who continued their efforts (at rescue scenes) to deliver quality patient care … when Tate exhibited abusive, demeaning and intimidating behaviors,” wrote hearing officer Barbara Albin, who recommended in 2014 that his firing be upheld.
The settlement is in addition to $39,500 in damages awarded to Tate and his attorneys after a different judge in 2014 concluded that the city improperly denied public records requests he filed during the city’s five-month internal investigation of him.
“The city of Albuquerque entered into a no-fault settlement agreement, settling three pending lawsuits filed by Mr. Tate,” City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said in response to Journal questions. “This settlement was not undertaken lightly, but only after careful consideration of all of the risks and costs involved in the lawsuits, particularly Mr. Tate’s potential claim for reinstatement with the City. ”
Before the settlement, there was still a chance that a judge could order Tate returned to work.
“Through this settlement, the city has ensured that Mr. Tate can never seek re-employment with the city, now or in the future, as an AFD paramedic or in any other capacity, safeguarding the city’s main priority – the safety of all citizens and those served by AFD’s paramedic unit,” Hernandez stated.
Tate’s attorney, former Albuquerque City Councilor Michael Cadigan, released a statement saying Tate plans to continue his education and career.
“I am happy to move on from this situation,” the statement quoted the 38-year-old Tate as saying.
Cadigan told the Journal in 2014 that he was confident Tate would be “vindicated when he has a neutral judge to review the city’s unfair and arbitrary action. The taxpayers will likely have to pick up the tab for this absurd witch hunt.”
District Judge Beatrice J. Brickhouse ruled in December that the city violated a state law for paramedics and firefighters accused of misconduct. She reversed the Personnel Board’s decision that upheld his termination but hadn’t yet ruled on his request for reinstatement or back pay.
Brickhouse found that city-hired private investigators failed to adequately inform Tate of the names of people who had complained about him – a requirement of the New Mexico Hazardous Duty Officers’ Employer-Employee Relations Act.
The city argued that Tate had been properly informed that the complaint was launched by the Fire Department’s medical director, Dr. Drew Harrell, who oversees paramedics’ licensing and certification.
“The patients themselves were not necessarily complainants, although they were interviewed as part of the investigation,” the city said in a lawsuit response.
After investigating, Harrell withdrew his supervision of Tate, which meant Tate could no longer perform EMS duties. Harrell cited three cases “of inappropriate care” and found “numerous instances of falsification of patient records,” hearing officer Albin said in her recommendation. Tate’s paramedic emergency medical technician license was revoked by the state in 2014.
Tate wasn’t a typical Albuquerque paramedic, records show.
He lived in Las Vegas, Nev., and commuted to his Fire Department job in New Mexico for at least two years while he also worked part time for Southwest Airlines. Part of the city’s case contended that he failed to get written permission for that outside employment.
Tate’s Facebook page described him in 2014 as a professional cutman for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a job that made use of his medical training as a paramedic. Cutmen are hired to prevent injuries and treat fighters’ cuts, swelling and nosebleeds that occur during matches. His website noted that he was featured on season 12 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Tate said in a court affidavit that he was let go last November after a manager found negative news reports about his firing by the city.
The “constant negative publicity” on the Internet “has poisoned his reputation,” Cadigan wrote in a lawsuit filed earlier this year.
Tate cannot find employment “commensurate with his job at the (Fire Department),” Cadigan said, and was owed at least $231,369 in back pay.
In 2002, Tate successfully won a discrimination complaint after he was disqualified as a candidate at the Albuquerque Fire Department academy because he forgot to take a photo ID.
The city agreed to his return after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found probable cause to believe he was treated differently from other candidates because he is African-American.
After he appealed his firing to the city Personnel Board, city hearing officer Albin heard from 16 witnesses during the four-day hearing in 2013.
Back then, Cadigan also raised the state hazardous duty officer personnel act as grounds for reversal, but Albin concluded that the city met the law’s requirements.
She recommended that the board uphold Tate’s firing on grounds that included patient abandonment, poor standards of care and unprofessional conduct.
Tate claimed his conduct was consistent with what he learned at the Fire Department and argued that even if he did commit the alleged acts, he should be given corrective training.
Tate had prior disciplinary issues, several involving off-duty incidents, dating back to 2004.
But Cadigan maintained that Tate was adequately performing his paramedic duties. Although the city later faulted his incident reports as sometimes being incomplete, Cadigan cited a January 2012 email from one AFD supervisor who said Tate’s reports were “as good as any, and better than most.”
Albin’s report stated that the city investigation of Tate also included interviews with at least a dozen patients and or their family members who variously describe Tate as rude, intimidating and they reported that Tate made them feel like they were abusing 911 and that they were wasting his time.”
The case that triggered the internal inquiry involved a 16-year-old girl whose family called 911 in May 2012 because she had abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea and couldn’t sit upright without pain. The girl is the daughter of a Fire Department lieutenant.
After a disagreement with Tate about transporting her, the family drove her to a hospital the next morning. She underwent surgery for the ruptured appendix and had a difficult recovery, with complications that required a second hospital stay, Albin wrote in her 31-page recommendation. Tate denied that the girl complained of pain and defended his actions.