August 1, 2011

This is a continuation of our last post. We were talking about a firefighter who committed suicide. The family has filed a wrongful death claim against the City of Salem, Oregon.

When we left off, the deceased was undergoing psychiatric treatment, and his medication had been screwed up. As that was being worked out, his supervisors told him a complaint had been filed against him for inappropriate behavior. The incident had occurred months earlier — months during which his medication was incorrect and ineffective. The department began a formal investigation.

After the first interview, in early July 2009, the victim appeared more anxious and depressed than he had been. The second interview greatly distressed him. The investigators directed him to the department’s employee assistance program.

Just a few days later, investigators — the chief and deputy chief — interviewed the victim again. They handed him an ultimate: resign or be fired. He had to make the decision before July 31, 2009. He handed in his resignation on July 27, to be effective on the 31st.

On July 31, 2009, the 20-year veteran of the fire department killed himself.

The victim’s family believes the short timeframe was cold-hearted and cruel. The investigators were not strangers to the man; they were supervisors, and they knew his history and recognized his distress during the investigation. The family’s attorney says the interviews amounted to a “harsh, aggressive and deceptive interrogation process.”

All of this, the attorney continues, culminating with the ultimatum, adds up to the department breaching its duty of reasonable care toward the victim.

The plaintiffs are asking for $4.15 million in damages.


Statesman Journal, “Firefighter’s family sues Salem over death,” Stacey Barchenger, 07/16/2011

Estate of Craig Warren et al. v. City of Salem, Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial, Marion County Court Case No. 11C18104, July 5, 2011


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