Altercation at Incident Prompts Illinois Lawsuit

An Illinois firefighter has filed suit claiming she was physically assaulted by a company officer at the scene of a fire last year. Michelle Giese claims she was assaulted by Lieutenant Nathan Boyce on October 18, 2018 while they were working for the Kankakee Fire Department.

The suit was filed last month in US District Court for the Central District of Illinois naming Lt. Boyce, Fire Chief Damon Schuldt, and the city as defendants. As explained in the complaint:

  • While Plaintiff was attempting to assist an elderly woman who had caught fire in a hallway, Defendant Boyce, without provocation, started incoherently screaming at Plaintiff.
  • He further picked up Plaintiff by her shoulder harness, lifted her off her feet, and shoved her into the wall.
  • Defendant Boyce refused to let go of Plaintiff and the two fell around the corner into the bathroom hallway, allowing other firefighters to get through the hallway.
  • Defendant Boyce slammed Plaintiff against the wall three more times and Plaintiff took the blows so the other firefighters present could get the victims out of the building.

Additional details about what led to the fire or the altercation are not provided in the complaint, which primarily focuses on how Giese claims the city mishandled the investigation and retaliated against her. Lt. Boyce was given a one-day suspension and an EAP referral.

The suit contains sixteen counts, including:

  • 42 USC §1983 – Equal Protection violation through intentional, willful and wanton, and/or deliberate indifference
  • 42 USC §1983 – 2nd, 4th and 14th Amendment violations through deliberate indifference
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Willful and wanton breach of legal duty
  • Negligent retention of Lt. Boyce by the city
  • Assault and battery
  • Violation of Illinois Gender Violence Act ILCS 82/1
  • Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 42 USC §2000e
  • Retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 42 USC §2000e
  • Gross Negligence
  • Conspiracy
  • Indemnity under 745 ILCS 10/9­102

Among the eyebrow-raising issues in the case:

  • How exactly did a woman catch fire, and what caused Lt. Boyce to try to get Giese out of the way “allowing other firefighters to get through the hallway”?
  • One of the first things the fire department did after the altercation was order all personnel involved to submit written witness statements. This is an old school move, but it is not advisable given the risks of triggering Garrity. That is for another post, but for those who have been through Managing Disciplinary Challenges in the Fire Service, this is a good example where ordering an accused to produce a written statement early in an investigation can further complicate an already complicated situation.
  • The complaint alleges a violation of Giese’s Second Amendment rights. What is not at all clear is what part of the Second Amendment does she allege was violated? The complaint does not mention Giese being denied a right to “keep and bear” arms… and there’s really not much else in the Second Amendment.
  • According to the Kankakee Daily Journal, Giese is actually a lieutenant, not a firefighter. It seems peculiar that such a fact would be omitted from the complaint. Perhaps it was an oversight, or perhaps this was done to make a more compelling case since by reading the complaint it would appear that a subordinate female firefighter was assaulted by a male lieutenant, as opposed to two equally ranked supervisors of the opposite sex having an altercation.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

More on the story.

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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