Ohio Chief Accuses Fire Board of Conspiracy and Racketeering

Fire Chief David Fulmer has been waging the battle of his life as he fights to regain his reputation following being terminated from the West Licking Joint Fire District in 2012 and again 2014.

Chief Fulmer was terminated in 2012 on vague charges related to computer misuse, but was widely believed to have been targeted for replacement due to animosity that had developed between him and the board of trustees. The termination was overturned in 2013 by the Licking County Court of Common Pleas, but the board appealed. That ruling was upheld earlier this year by the Ohio Court of Appeals, prompting the fire board to rehire Chief Fulmer, then immediately suspend him and initiate new disciplinary charges.

The new charges resulted in Chief Fulmer being terminated a second time last July. That ruling is now the subject of a second appeal that is pending before the Licking County Court of Common Pleas.

In November, Chief Fulmer upped the ante by filing a separate suit against the West Licking Joint Fire District and thirteen named defendants alleging a denial of due process, civil conspiracy, spoliation, and racketeering.

The named defendants include current and former board members; a local city councilman who served on the board when much of the conduct occurred and was subsequently removed; an investigator who conducted the 2012 investigation; and three of the district’s attorneys. The defendants are Derek Myers, Mark Van Buren, Michael Fox, Randy Foor, Brian Denton, Cornelius McGrady, Timothy O. Hickin, Elizabeth Krugh, Richard Emmons, Marc Fishel, Frank Hatfield, Steven Little, and Douglas Duckett.

The complaint was originally filed in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. Earlier this month the defendants removed the case to the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio due to the allegations of federal constitutional rights violations.

The facts are so complicated and allegations of misconduct so numerous that a brief summary would not do the case justice: perjury, evidence tampering/spoliation, extortion, open meetings violations, public records violations, and mean spirited politics are all alleged in the complaint. I would strongly urge folks to read the attached complaint. It is well written, easy to follow, and well pled. Forty-eight pages, 224 paragraphs and eight counts – there is a lot there – but it is definitely worth the read.

Here are thumbnail overviews of the eight counts:

  • Count 1: Property interest based deprivation of due process violations against Myers, Van Buren, Fox, Denton and McGrady under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for both the 2012 and 2014 terminations
  • Count 2: Property interest based due process violations against Myers, Van Buren, Fox, Denton, McGrady, Krugh, Emmons, Fishel and Hatfield for misconduct that “shocks the conscious” and violates substantive due process as “arbitrary and capricious” under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for the 2012 termination.
  • Count 3: Property and liberty interest based due process violations against Myers, Van Buren, Foor, Denton, McGrady, Fishel, Little and Duckett under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for the 2014 termination.
  • Count 4: Due process violations against the West Licking Joint Fire District under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for both the 2012 and 2014 terminations.
  • Count 5: Violations of the Ohio Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act with predicate acts that “include, but are not limited to a violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. §1951 [extortion affecting interstate commerce], and violations of R.C. §2905.l l(A)(S) (extortion), §2921.11 (perjury), §2921.12 (tampering with evidence), §2913.42 (tampering with records), and §2921 .03 (intimidation).” In order to establish a civil RICO violation a plaintiff must establish that those involved in running a business committed at least two “predicate” criminal acts. Upon a finding of a RICO violation, the court will have broad discretion to remedy the behavior and prevent the perpetrators from engaging in similar behavior in the future, besides awarding damages, costs and attorneys fees.
  • Count 6: Civil conspiracy “Defendants Myers, Van Buren, Fox, Foor, Denton, McGrady, Hickin, Krugh, Emmons, Fishel, Hatfield, Little and Duckett conspired… to injure the Plaintiff in his constitutionally protected employment position and reputation and, as a result of their joint effort(s), caused actual damages to the Plaintiff by virtue of his employment terminations.”
  • Count 7: Spoliation – the defendants “willfully destroyed evidence which was designed to disrupt Fulmer’s case”
  • Count 8: Violation of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act – the district failed to provide Chief Fulmer with the required notice and opportunity to obtain health care following his terminations in 2012 and 2014.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Fulmer v Myers

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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