Noose Assault Prompts Suit Against Washington State Fire District

An African American recruit firefighter in Washington state who had a noose placed around his neck by a fellow recruit, has filed suit against the department, several officers and the offender. Elijah Page filed suit in federal court against the Clark County Fire District 6, three chief officers, a captain and former recruit John Erickson.

Page, 41, was a police officer who decided to become a firefighter. In 2022, he left the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to join Clark County Fire District 6. The noose incident was explained in the complaint as follows:

  • In early June, 2022, Page’s class was conducting training on knot tying. New hires had been given ropes to practice tying the knots.
  • The ropes were approximately 10 feet long and one half inch thick.
  • The rope was like those used in rock climbing or rappelling.
  • The new hires were practicing their knots in a classroom at CCFD6.
  • During a training break Page took the opportunity to speak with his mobile phone while sitting in his class desk chair.
  • While Page was talking with his wife, Erickson plotted to assault Page based on Page’s race or color.
  • Erickson fashioned his rope into a noose and snuck up behind Page.
  • Erickson quickly threw the noose over Page’s head and around his neck.
  • Once Erickson had the noose around Page’s neck, Erickson pulled on the rope and tightened the noose around Page’s neck.
  • Page felt the sting of the noose as Erickson pulled the rope tight from behind Page.
  • Page quickly escaped and pulled the noose from his neck.
  • Page looked at the noose in horror, shock, and embarrassment.
  • Page realized that he had just been subjected to a simulated lynching.
  • Page realized his entire class could see Erickson lynch him, but not one of them objected.
  • This was the most embarrassing and humiliating thing Page had ever experienced in his entire life.
  • In fact, many, if not all, of Page’s CCFD6 classmates actually watched Erickson throw the noose around Page’s neck.
  • None of Page’s class mates intervened in the lynching.
  • None of them even voiced an objection before or during the lynching. Some of the classmates viewed the hate crime as a “joke.”
  • Page was emotionally devastated and outraged by the assault and by none of his classmates did anything to stop it.
  • As a black man, Page was aware of the historical context and racial significance of lynching.
  • Despite his shock and anger, Page mustered every bit of professionalism and integrity, and told Erickson that he was “deeply offended.”
  • As a former law enforcement officer, Page recognized that the simulated lynching was a 4th-degree assault under RCW 9A.36.041, and a felony hate crime under RCW 9A.36.080.
  • At the time of the assault, Page wrongly believed CCFD6 would fully and reasonably address the crime committed against him.
  • But CCFD6 did not reasonably respond to the assault on Page.
  • CCFD6 did not even follow its own policy in responding to the assault.
  • In fact, the CCFD6 administration directly violated its own policy in an effort to downplay and cover up the assault.
  • CCFD6 did this because it wanted to hide the assault from the public in the months ahead of the upcoming vote on a tax increase proposed by CCFD6.
  • High-ranking officers at CCFD6 … violated policy and law by placing a gag order on Page when they ordered him and others not to discuss the assault with anyone.
  • They specifically ordered that Page was not allowed to speak to anyone about the assault and that word of the assault was not to leave the fire station.
  • The gag order put Page in a position where if he personally reported the crime to the police, or public, he could be fired for disobeying an order while still on probationary status.
  • Page knew he was the victim of an assault, and that the gag order was itself illegal and a violation of RCW 9A.72.120.
  • Page knew that he was not safe to continue working in such a hostile environment where he could be the victim of a felony hate crime and subsequently be ordered not to discuss or report that crime.
  • It would have been unreasonable and unsafe for Page to trust his life to people who sat by and watched while he was subjected to a simulated lynching.
  • Part of Page’s job as a firefighter at CCFD6 involved sleeping at the station with the same people who had sat idly by while he was assaulted.
  • Page was not safe sleeping in such an environment.
  • Page could not risk his safety by working for a management that he knew unlawfully ordered him to stay silent when he was assaulted.
  • Due to the unsafe and hostile work environment Page was constructively discharged and forced out of CCFD6.
  • As a result of being constructively discharged Page lost out on the significant long-term financial benefits.
  • As a result of the actions of defendants above Page has suffered extreme emotional distress.

Erickson was allowed to “separate” from the department without being fired. The complaint alleges he was also given assurances that the department would not provide prospective employers with information about the incident.

The suit alleges race discrimination, hostile work environment, a violation of the First Amendment due to the gag order, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, hate crime, battery, state law discrimination, wrongful discharge, outrage, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent training, and negligent supervision. 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.
x

Check Also

LA County Fire Makes Partial Concession to Lifeguard on Raising Pride Flag

The Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguard captain who filed suit last month challenging a mandate that he raise the Progress Pride Flag during Pride Month, has received a partial accommodation. Captain Jeffrey Little filed suit alleging that the county withdrew a religion-based accommodation, and found him to have violated the county’s Policy of equity.

LA County Captain Settles With Shooter’s Estate

A Los Angeles County fire captain who was shot by a disgruntled firefighter in 2021, has reached a settlement with the shooter’s estate. Captain Arnoldo V. Sandoval suffered serious injuries including paralysis in the shooting that occurred at Station 81 on June 1, 2021 following shift change.