San Francisco Firefighter Claims She’s a Scapegoat

A female firefighter who characterizes herself as a “24-year veteran firefighter … a lesbian and woman of color who helped pioneer desegregation efforts” in the San Francisco Fire Department claims she has been made to be the scapegoat for the department in the aftermath of the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.

Elyse Duckett filed suit against the city and county of San Francisco last Friday claiming fire officials identified her has the person driving the crash truck that ran over and killed Ye Meng Yuan on July 6, 2013. She alleges the department deliberately sought to blame her to divert attention from other mistakes that the department made. The suit was not unexpected as Duckett filed a civil claim with the city last January. She is seeking $300,000 in compensation.

Duckett argued that she was blamed despite the fact that another emergency vehicle ran over Yuan first, and the young girl was covered with foam and likely already dead when her vehicle drove over her. Her attorney, Eduardo Roy, was quoted by the SF Gate as saying “Elyse was a scapegoat so there wouldn’t be a magnifying glass on all the other things that went wrong.”

Roy also was quoted as saying “There is only one African American lesbian. … So what do you do? You pick on the weaker, smaller group.”

More on the story.

Incidentally, based on everything I have read and everyone I have spoken to about the Asiana Airlines crash, the San Francisco Fire Department did an outstanding job under very difficult circumstances. Major incidents like this do not unfold flawlessly and mistakes happen.

The underlying assumption in this lawsuit is that the SFFD did such a poor job in managing the incident that it needed to find a scapegoat. That assumption is an initial hurtle for me in terms of Duckett’s allegations having much credibility. The death of Ye Meng Yuan, tragic as it was, is not a mistake of the magnitude that would warrant a department like San Francisco (that otherwise did an outstanding job) deliberately engaging in a major conspiracy to falsely fix blame on someone… particularly someone who incidentally is a member of three protected classes (race, gender and sexual orientation). Geeze.. if someone was going to concoct a major conspiracy to hide the truth from the FAA, NTSB, and everyone else who undoubtedly would be looking into this event do you think they might have found someone with a little less protected status to make the scapegoat???? HELLO!!!! It will be interesting to see what proof Mr. Roy and Ms. Duckett are able to supply to support their allegations.

UPDATED: 5/14/14 – Here is a copy of the complaint: Duckett v San Francisco

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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