California Firefighter Sues Captain and Firefighter Over Assault

A California firefighter who was physically assaulted by a fire captain and a firefighter has filed suit against both of them and his fire department. Michael Botill filed suit against the Central Fire District of Santa Cruz County, Captain Dan Jordan and firefighter Forrest Gleitsman alleging assault, battery, harassment, negligent hiring, negligent retention, and whistleblower retaliation.

The complaint lists a series of lesser incidents that occurred between Botill and Captain Jordan starting in 2020 where Captain Jordan had allegedly assaulted Botill. However, things took a turn for the worse in 2022. On August 30, 2022, Botill filed a complaint about a change to the department’s medical leave policy. Shortly thereafter, Captain Jordan allegedly called him threatening “further violence and retaliation against Plaintiff, stating, ‘You better not be in the same room as me!’ and ‘Fuck you, Dude . . . You’re such a fag.’”

Captain Johnson’s call prompted Botoill to file a written complaint of retaliation, discrimination and harassment with the fire department on August 31, 2022. That in turn led to a major incident that took place on October 4, 2022, which was the department’s annual Bid Night. As explained in the complaint:

  • During Bid Night, Jordan approached probationary firefighters Julian Thompson and Ben Shank and physically slapped items out of their hands, including a cell phone, in a highly aggressive manner.
  • Because he perceived this assault as another instance of workplace violence, Plaintiff immediately told Jordan to stop, then asked another captain to intervene.
  • Multiple high-ranking firefighters observed Jordan’s aggressive behavior.
  • By failing and refusing to take any action against Captain Jordan, Central Fire District ratified Jordan’s behavior in connection with the 2022 Bid Night.
  • As a continuation of the Bid Night, multiple firefighters, including Plaintiff, went to the Britannia Arms Restaurant located in Capitola, California.
  • While at the restaurant, Plaintiff received a text message from Firefighter Forrest Gleitsman, asking in substance or effect: “Where you at?” Plaintiff provided Gleitsman with his location.
  • On information and belief, and unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Jordan and Gleitsman had by this time formed an agreement or conspiracy to attack Plaintiff and were attempting to locate him for that purpose.
  • A short while later, Jordan and Gleitsman entered the restaurant. Jordan sat down across from Plaintiff at the same table, staring at him and taunting him.
  • These acts of further intimidation, harassment, and retaliation included the following statements: (1) “Why are you such a cunt?”; (2) “Why are you such a faggot?”; and (3) “Why do you hate me so much?”
  • Because Jordan was increasingly belligerent and antagonistic, Plaintiff was afraid for his safety and left the restaurant. Jordan almost immediately pursued him.
  • Jordan continued to taunt Plaintiff outside and verbally reconfirmed that the basis for his retaliation against, and treatment of, Plaintiff was due in at least substantial part to Plaintiff’s perceived use of protected leave and Plaintiff’s complaints about unlawful working conditions.
  • Plaintiff attempted to escape Jordan for a second time by returning inside and sitting away from the Central Fire District’s table entirely next to a stranger.
  • Jordan again pursued Plaintiff and placed himself directly between Plaintiff and the patron, interrupting them mid conversation. Jordan continued antagonizing Plaintiff, plainly in an effort to intimidate him.
  • In response to Jordan’s outward aggression, the bartender closed the bar for the night.
  • Plaintiff then attempted to get away from Captain Jordan for a third time but was pursued by Jordan and also Gleitsman.
  • Referring expressly to Plaintiff’s protected complaint of August 31, 2022, and the District’s unwritten policy, custom, or practice of allowing workplace violence, Gleitsman yelled, in substance or effect: “How dare you sue DanJo!” and “If we have problems, we settle them in the streets with our fists!” Jordan attempted to strike and shove Plaintiff at this time.
  • During this assault, and again in direct reference to Plaintiff’s complaints and reports about workplace violence and safety, Jordan yelled, in substance or effect: “How dare you complain about me to the department!”
  • Plaintiff attempted to distance himself from Jordan and now Gleitsman for a fourth time but was attacked from behind by a strike to the jaw from Gleitsman.
  • Gleitsman then repeatedly struck Plaintiff’s face and body multiple times with his fists. Jordan joined the attack, also striking Plaintiff with his fists.
  • Plaintiff suffered multiple physical and emotional injuries because of the unlawful attack by these agents of Central Fire District.
  • On information and belief, Gleitsman has committed at least one other assault and battery against a fellow District firefighter.
  • This includes an instance where Gleitsman choked a Captain during a work event located at Palapas Restaurant in Aptos, California.
  • The Central Fire District was made aware of this behavior, and Gleitsman’s propensity for violence, but took no material and or reasonable steps to discipline or punish Gleitsman or otherwise prevent a similar violent behavior, but instead continued to negligently retain Gleitsman and thereby ratified the unlawful conduct and encourage future instances of violence.
  • Moreover, Central Fire District’s failure to address Gleichman’s violence created the impression in Gleitsman that violence and/or the threat of violence was an appropriate method of resolving workplace disputes by effectively ratifying the conduct.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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