Monday, September 8, 2014

Liar's Dice, Part II: Boise TV contradicts claims by mayor and fire chief re: "Heimlich drowning" -- plus investigations updates

A Boise TV station has confirmed that firefighter Brent Matthews said he performed the Heimlich maneuver on a near-drowning victim who died a few days later.

It started with this clip from a June 24, 2014 KTVB-TV story by Scott Evans about a dramatic drowning rescue of Martinez, a 56-year-old homeless man, by Boise firefighter Brent Matthews and Boise Police Officer Joe Rivas.

That sounds like a straightforward admission to me, plus in a June 25 e-mail to me, Evans confirmed to me that Mr. Matthews told him he'd performed the Heimlich maneuver on Mr. Martinez.

The first media report about my concerns (which have since been widely-reported) -- a July 16 Boise Weekly story by Harrison Berry -- reported it that way, but later backed off a notch:

Meanwhile, in response to my July 2 letter of concern to Boise Mayor David Bieter, here's how public officials played it.

Via Mayor Bieter's July 18 reply to me:
The Boise Fire Department spoke with the firefighter involved in the rescue of Mr. Martinez, reviewed the written report and checked with others, including supervisors who were on the scene, and has confirmed that the Heimlich maneuver was not performed on the drowning victim.
Via a July 22 e-mail to me from Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg:
I want to let you know that no one performed the Heimlich maneuver on the deceased.
Via a July 23 e-mail to me from Fire Chief Doan in which he refused to further discuss the matter:
(The) Heimlich maneuver was not performed on this rescue...The Boise Fire Department does not, and has never, instructed our dive team, EMT’s or Paramedics to perform theHeimlich Maneuver on drowning vicms, nor do we intend to in the future.
Via the July 16 Boise Weekly:
"It turns out that, sort of contrary to what KTVB reported, and it just may have been a simple misunderstanding, but it appears that the firefighter who pulled Mr. Martinez from the canal did, in fact, not use the Heimlich," said Boise Fire Department Communications Director Lynn Hightower.
Via the July 18 Idaho Statesman:
Did (Brent) Matthews actually use the Heimlich? The Boise Fire Department says no. Spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said other emergency response officials at the scene corroborated Matthews' report, which said he used CPR to bring Martinez back.
But KTVB is standing by their version.

On August 15, the station aired a follow-up report in which reporter Carolyn Holly unequivocally stated:
The firefighter, Brent Matthews, told KTVB he had performed the Heimlich maneuver during the rescue.
Here's the clip:

Via the same story:
The City of Boise's ethics commission determined Thursday it would not look into an alleged cover-up in an investigation involving a firefighter's treatment of a drowning victim...Now, other city leaders will determine if further investigation should be done.
More details from an August 15 e-mail I received from Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Koeckeritz on behalf of the Ethics Commission:
(The) Ethics Commission determined that your allegations fell outside of their jurisdiction...However, Boise City takes these allegations seriously and has asked the Fire Medical Director and Human Resources to perform an independent investigation of these allegations.
A few days ago I shared these concerns in letters to the city's investigators and to the Idaho Attorney General's Criminal Law Division. (Page down to view; click here to download a pdf of both letters.)

1) An inaccurate report of the near-drowning incident may have been filed and false information may have been circulated by public employees.

2) Public employees conducted an inadequate investigation.

3) Mayor Bieter, Coroner Sonnenberg, and Chief Doan may have provided me with false information.

4) Ms. Hightower may have provided false information to the press.