Capt. James Reyes File photo
Capt. James Reyes
File photo

On Monday Feb. 9, former Idyllwild Fire Capt. James Reyes filed a wrongful termination of employment suit in the Riverside County Superior Court against the Idyllwild Fire Protection District.

IFPD Chief Patrick Reitz gave Reyes a notice of termination on July 19, 2014, after nearly six months of paid administrative leave. Reitz ascribed his decision to terminate Reyes to Reyes’ action during a medical call on Jan. 17, 2014, which Reitz described as an egregious violation of county emergency medical protocols and policies.

In his legal action, Reyes claims that Reitz’s termination of him “was motivated in large part by retaliation for [Reyes’] knowledge of improprieties within the department that [Reyes] reasonably believed may constitute violations of statutes, regulations or other provisions of law …”

Reitz and IFPD President Jerry Buchanan had no comment on the filing, except this email from Reitz: “The District has not been served and will not comment on possible pending litigation outside of a board meeting.” Filing for case no. RIC 1501542, dated Feb. 9, is available here: Reyes_v_IFPD.

Reyes said he is relieved and “awaiting justice.”

The specific incident that triggered Reitz’s decision to fire Reyes involved an “infant not breathing.” However, Riverside County Engine 23 (Pine Cove) was already on scene and the parents apparently told the 911 operator that the 5-month-old was not breathing and had been without a pulse for at least 40 minutes, according to Reitz’s notice of termination.

Among the violations Reitz accused Reyes of committing were entering the residence without equipment, failure to initiate any advanced life support, failure to contact a base hospital, not employing a Broselow Tape or county emergency drug calculation chart or administering epinephrine, and permitting the paramedic from Station 23 to use Reyes’ intra-osseous infusion equipment.

After reviewing the incident reports, IFPD’s Physician Medical Director Dr. Gerardo Salcedo of Wildomar recommended revoking Reyes paramedic license, according to Reitz. But Reitz was concerned about other issues as well.

In addition to Reyes’ alleged mistakes during this incident, Reitz added that Reyes had failed to meet certain training requirements and received a poor performance evaluation in December 2013.

Reyes had 30 days to appeal the termination, which he did in August, but the IFPD commission supported the chief’s action.

Reyes maintains that “his handling of this emergency response was proper in all respects,” and “the reasons for the termination are without merit or factual basis.”

Reyes believes retaliation for his intervention and testimony before the Riverside County grand jury last spring is the true basis for his dismissal. He testified about action Capt. Mark LaMont had taken toward reserve firefighter Eric Gibby.

This incident is described in a grand jury report released in June 2014. Reyes’ complaint says Reitz ordered all employees summoned to the grand jury to contact him before their appearance.

The grand jury report recommended that the IFPD commission consider terminating LaMont and Reitz, which the IFPD commission rejected without any investigation. Buchanan confirmed in August that the commission conducted no investigation nor was testimony taken.

Reyes alleges it was the severity of the recommendations, which his testimony may have influenced, that resulted in his dismissal. “Defendants knew from their receipt of the grand jury report that plaintiff’s testimony had been instrumental in the grand jury reaching this finding,” his lawyer states.

After learning of Reyes’ grand jury testimony, Reitz magnified the investigation of the January incident in order to dismiss Reyes, his complaint states. He stresses that the termination notice never “discloses the outcome of the patient, or charge that the patient’s outcome was in any way adversely impacted by any act or omission of Reyes.” (The Town Crier did confirm that the infant died.)

The complaint alleges that until Reitz’s evaluation of Reyes in December 2013, Reyes had always received standard or better performance evaluations. He claims the negative evaluations started only after Reitz arrived as chief.

“I don’t see any justification. It’s an unwarranted termination,” said Stephen J. Horvath, Reyes’ attorney. “Retaliation is what’s driving the termination. Don’t see merit based on his OK service. They don’t have the factual support.”

Reyes had been with Idyllwild Fire since 1989 and became a captain in 2003.