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Two Okaloosa County EMS paramedics face multiple felony charges after an investigation revealed they used their personal cellphones to record and photograph patients inside ambulances as part of a “selfie war” competition.
A total of 41 patients were initially identified, and all but two, who later died, have been notified by authorities. Many were intubated, sedated or unconscious at the time.
Investigators found that the digital images — 64 videos and 101 photos — were shared among a group of five EMTs and paramedics within the Okaloosa County Public Safety Department.
“It was a sick, juvenile game,” Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said during a press conference Thursday morning. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
Kayla Renee Dubois, a 24-year-old paramedic from Navarre, is charged with two counts of interception and disclosure of oral communications.
She was fired from her job with the county on May 20 and arrested Thursday morning in Santa Rosa County.
Crestview resident Christopher Wimmer, who is 33, turned himself in to authorities at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. He is charged with seven counts of interception and disclosure of oral communications and one count of misdemeanor battery in connection with an incident in which he held open the eyelids of a sedated patient for a selfie.
Investigators say Wimmer also posed with an elderly woman with her breast exposed. He resigned from his job on May 20.
Of the 41 patients photographed or recorded, two later died. Another three of the 41 appeared to have willingly participated in the selfies. Of the remaining 36 patients, whose ages range from 24 to 86:
Ashley said investigators have determined that none of the photos or videos were shared on social media sites.
“The victims we identified and spoke to, they were angry, were frustrated, were hurt,” Ashley said, adding that he had seen the images. “… They were over the line and clearly made to humiliate the patient.”
Investigation began May 13
The charges against Dubois and Wimmer stem from a criminal investigation into five county EMTs that began May 13 after County EMS Chief Tracey Vause filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office.
Three EMS paramedics had complained to Vause that Wimmer had been showing unprofessional and compromising selfies on his iPhone of patients under his care inside ambulances.
“This was a small number of individuals who decided it would be funny, cute,” Ashley said. “We don’t see it that way. We see it as vile and offensive. Their co-workers saw it as vile and offensive.”
Most of the photos and videos of patients were taken between September 2015 and December 2015.
Ashley praised the actions of the three EMS employees who spoke up and said they led investigators to key evidence on Wimmer’s cellphone.
“That’s the good news,” he said. “… I am thankful they brought this to law enforcement’s attention.”
One of the paramedics told investigators about the photo of the elderly woman and the patient whose eyelids were held open. A second paramedic said Wimmer had multiple “jump scare” videos on his phone in which he would “drive his ambulance by unsuspecting pedestrians, activate his air horn and record their reactions,” according to Dubois’ arrest report.
One of the employees told investigators that Wimmer had said he was in a competition with Dubois to see who could take the best selfies with patients. Another paramedic said Wimmer had shown him a video sent by Dubois that had recorded a woman flailing her arms and legs and Dubois nearby smiling and talking into the camera, the arrest report said.
All three of the whistleblowers told investigators that Wimmer “was often laughing or smiling” in the videos and photographs they had been shown, the arrest report said.
Wimmer's phone contained all the images
Wimmer, whose iPhone was later seized as evidence, initially told investigators he might have some patient photos on his phone but that they were recorded after obtaining consent and were to be used for training purposes.
All of the digital images, both videos and photos, were found on Wimmer’s phone. Dubois did not grant investigators access to her cellphone or provide her password, Ashley said.
She is being charged because investigators found five selfies on Wimmer’s phone that feature Dubois as well as two videos produced by Dubois, one of which was also a selfie. The patients in those photos and videos “were sometimes intubated, unconscous or intoxicated and in varying degrees of distress,” the arrest report said.
One of the two videos Dubois is accused of recording was shot Sept. 22, 2015, and featured a 54-year-old woman. The other video was shot Dec. 6, 2015, and also involved a 54-year-old woman, the arrest report said.
Ashley said Wimmer’s phone also contained text messages and screen shots showing that he and Dubois challenged each other to produce more selfies and “step up their game.”
'Intend to seek jail time'
In addition to Wimmer and Dubois, the three other EMTs who are not facing criminal charges were fired from their jobs with the county.
“They knew it was a violation of … the training they have gone through,” County Administrator John Hofstad said during the press conference. “… That will be reviewed by a state agency, and I suspect those individuals will lose their right to ever practice as paramedics and EMTs in the state again.”
Bill Bishop, chief assistant state attorney for Okaloosa County, said each count of interception carries a maximum penalty of five years.
“Because of the insensitivity shown by these individuals, we intend to prosecute vigorously and intend to seek jail time,” he said.
Written By KARI BARLOW, NW Florida Daily News
What the hell is wrong with people anymore? How can you even form something like that in your mind, let alone carry it out? Both of them should be thrown under the jail and never allowed in the profession again. DAMN, that makes me mad!
I cannot begin to explain my disgust for these two idiots. They are NOT medics, they were just pay check collectors. True medics care and protect their patients, not exploit or make fun of them. They should get federal prison time for the HIPPA laws they've breached, not to mention the myriad of felonies. People like them makes me sick. Please do not judge all medics by the acts of these two cretins.
glad these pukes finally got busted and glad those others came forward, but sux it took so long to discover their sick actions
Can this world get any more disgusting? They should be stripped of any licensing for life.