Virginia EMT Files $30 Million Suit Over Sexual Assault

A volunteer EMT has filed suit in US District Court for the Western District of Virginia claiming she was sexually assaulted and abused by a career lieutenant while participating in ride-along training with the Bedford County Department of Fire & Rescue when she was a minor.

Identified as Jane Doe in the complaint, the EMT alleges she was sexually assaulted by Lieutenant Larry Scott Hawkins during a ride-along training session in February, 2018. Hawkins, 52, was a convicted felon. Doe, 17 at the time, was a student in an EMT class sponsored by the county and taught by another officer. As part of that class Doe was required to participate in the ride-along program.

The lawsuit alleges that county officials were aware of Hawkins’ criminal record, which according to the complaint included convictions for abduction, use of a firearm, brandishing a firearm, and assault and battery. Nevertheless, he was hired in 2008 and later promoted to lieutenant.

The suit was brought under 42 USC § 1983 alleging “Jane Doe’s constitutional right to be free from state actor conduct that violated her bodily integrity was violated as a direct and proximate result of Bedford County’s de facto policy of deliberate indifference.” Besides two § 1983 counts, it also contains one count of gross negligence. The suit names the County and Fire Chief John W. Jones, Jr., as defendants.

The suit contends the county’s sexual harassment policy only prohibited employees from sexual harassing other employees, not volunteers or members of the public. It also raises questions about the County’s criminal background check policy. From the complaint:

  • [P]rior to February 10, 2018, the county did not have a SOG or other policy, custom, or practice establishing a procedure for volunteer EMTs to report, or for supervisors to investigate, complaints of sexual harassment and assault committed by the department’s permanent full-time employees against volunteer EMTs.
  • Prior to February 10, 2018, the Fire & Rescue Department did not have a SOG or other policy, custom, or practice prohibiting sexual harassment, abuse, or assault by its permanent fulltime employees.
  • The county’s policies prohibiting its employees from committing sexual harassment, abuse, or assault prohibited only sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual misconduct against county employees.
  • The county’s policies regarding the reporting and resolution of complaints of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault applied only to complaints by county employees.
  • [P]rior to February 10, 2018, the Fire & Rescue Department had a practice of not adequately reviewing the criminal background of individuals who applied for permanent fulltime positions as EMTs.
  • The practice was that the criminal background investigation report was made available to the Fire & Rescue Department by the Human Resources Manager, but the policy, custom, and practice of the Fire & Rescue Department was to ignore the report and not review the criminal background investigation prior to hiring permanent full-time employees.
  • This practice was followed when Cheryl Dean, the county Human Resources Manager, provided Jones a memo on June 23, 2008 which stated that “Larry Hawkins had a criminal background check completed by the Bedford County Human Resources Office on 05/22/07.”
  • The report did not state that Hawkins was cleared to be hired by the county or that he did not have a violent criminal history.
  • Jones had the authority to veto the hiring of Hawkins, but he did not check Hawkins’ criminal history report.
  • He approved the hiring of Hawkins by the Fire & Rescue department, even though Hawkins had been convicted of violent felonies that precluded him from being a certified EMT when a requirement of the job that Jones hired Hawkins to perform required that Hawkins be a certified EMT.

The suit seeks $30,000,000 in damages. Here is a copy of the complaint:

Hawkins was convicted earlier this year, and sentenced to a ten year prison sentence with seven years suspended and three years to serve.

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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