Florida Firefighter Files Defamation Claim Over Psych Eval

What do you get when you uncover government wrongdoing, and have to report it to a police chief who reports to officials from the community where the alleged wrongdoing took place? In the case of Longboat Key, Florida firefighter Matt Taylor, you get sent to a psychiatrist.

The story began when Taylor began documenting what he believed was mismanagement and possible criminal behavior related to the town’s pension fund. In December, 2010, he shared his suspicions with his fire chief, but the disclosure ended badly when he was disciplined for a variety of minor matters – all of which would otherwise appear to be valid disciplinary concerns had the timing been a bit different.

He next sought to report the matter to the Attorney General and the state’s Ethics Commission, but was told he needed to first report the matter to the local police. He diligently met with police chief Al Hogle on January 21, 2011, who following the meeting sent a memo to town officials and the fire chief suggesting that Taylor needed to see a psychiatrist. The memo stated:

“I had a one and one-half hour interview with an employee this morning that has very serious mental health issues. I’m working on a detailed set of notes to explain some of the issues. As soon as I get those notes completed, I will get with the fire chief and come to see you to pursue a Fitness for Duty issue. This is not just anxiety, rather a sad state of mental reasoning deterioration.”

Before the day was over, Taylor was ordered to take a drug test and be examined by a psychiatrist. He passed both the drug test and the psych eval, and now a full state police investigation is underway into his pension allegations.

Taylor has been restored to full duty and is credited with making a water rescue earlier this month. He has filed a claim against the town for defamation, which is a preliminary step to filing a lawsuit. According to his attorney, if the claim is denied Taylor will sue both the town and Chief Hogle.

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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