By Evan Sernoffsky San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco paramedic and a police officer have lost their jobs after an alleged assault last year on a woman who was restrained in the back of an ambulance on an involuntary mental health hold, officials said Wednesday.
The paramedic, Raymond Lee, resigned from the San Francisco Fire Department on Friday after being criminally charged earlier this year for allegedly grabbing the victim’s throat while she was restrained and sedated, officials said.
In the back of the ambulance with Lee was rookie officer Michael Filamore, who was fired from the police department after being accused of violating protocol by muting his body-worn camera, which recorded the alleged assault, and failing to report the incident. The case was first reported by the San Francisco Examiner.
Lee was charged on May 22 with inflicting injury on an elder or dependent adult likely to cause great bodily injury, assault by a public officer, and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
San Francisco Fire Department officials would not comment on the incident because the case is still open.
Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesman for the department, said Lee has been on desk duty since the charges were filed.
As part of a negotiated plea agreement with prosecutors, Lee voluntarily retired from the San Francisco Fire Department and will plead guilty to lesser misdemeanor charges, sources told The Chronicle.
Lee’s attorney, James Bustamante, said he’s viewed the video of the incident more than 25 times. “I just don’t see the basis for the department’s actions taken against my client,” he said.
“My client’s case is going to get resolved more in line with the actual circumstances of the incident,” Bustamante said. “He has no criminal history and has an impeccable record up to this point. From my point of view, he provided good service from the department to the San Francisco community.”
The incident happened on May 23, 2017, when police responded to a report of a mentally disturbed woman threatening suicide at a home on 17th Avenue near Lawton Street in the city’s Sunset District, officials said.
The woman fought with police as they attempted to detain her, and kicked and bit them as they put her in restraints and gave her a sedative, authorities said.
Filamore accompanied Lee in the back of the ambulance as they drove to San Francisco General Hospital, where the woman was being taken for an involuntary mental health hold. While en route, Lee allegedly reached over with his right arm and placed his fingers and thumb on opposite sides of the victim’s trachea. Lee then stood up and further leaned over the victim, officials said.
At some point during the incident, the woman suffered a broken arm, but it’s not clear how she sustained the injury.
Police and officials with the San Francisco Fire Department reviewed Filamore’s body-worn camera footage of the incident during an internal investigation into the episode.
On Jan. 25, Police Chief Bill Scott fired Filamore, writing in a termination letter that the officer “failed to take action” when Lee choked the woman and that he also muted his body camera “without cause.”
“At one point, the paramedic choked the patient in your presence,” Scott wrote. “You failed to take action and failed to report the incident. Finally, you were evasive during your internal affairs interview.”
Filamore had recently joined the department and was on probation, during which it’s easier to dismiss officers. Filamore filed a wrongful termination suit against the police department in May, and Scott’s letter was included as an exhibit.
Filamore is seeking to be reinstated and receive back pay and benefits. His attorney, Peter Furst, said his client only muted his camera because he believed Lee and the woman were discussing confidential medical information and he believed the woman was entitled to privacy, Furst wrote in the lawsuit.
The woman’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against the city and police department.
“We will address these matters in the appropriate venue, which is the court of law,” said John Coté, a spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.