The embattled Exeter District Ambulance (EDA) is facing more turmoil. On November 28 Jennifer Rios, former paramedic for the district, filed suit against the district for wrongful termination, back pay and benefits.
Named in the suit are the Exeter District Ambulance, board members Tony Miller and Darinda Kunkel, and office manager TJ Fischer.
Rios believes the district fired her in retaliation for reporting that board member Tony Miller had engaged in criminal wrongdoing at the district office. She also believes that her firing was to punish her for her involvement in the recall campaigns against board members Miller and Kunkle.
“It’s a pretty straight forward whistle blower retaliation case,” said Marguerite Melo, Rios’s lawyer.
According to the suit, Rios suffered economic injury as a result of her loss of salary and benefits by a wrongful termination from EDA. She has also suffered a violation of her civil rights.
Rios was employed as a paramedic by EDA from August 2010 until she was fired the at end of June of this year.
Around January 30, 2017, Rios lodged a formal complaint with EDA Board President Allen Sherer. The complaint stated that Miller made false accusations against her and that he intended to have her and other employees fired. The accusations involved a blackmail incident that had been investigated in 2014 where Rios had been exonerated.
Rios’ complaint also stated that she witnessed Miller removing what she believed to be personnel files from the EDA office between 9pm and 10pm on January 26 of this year.
According to her complaint, she and another employee witnessed Miller removing two boxes from the EDA office and putting them in his wife’s car.
Miller was at the office late in the evening when normally no paramedic crews were at the station. But “two crews drove up unexpectedly as he was loading documents in to the vehicle” stated Rios’ letter.
She continued, “It is my belief that he took those documents home and Mrs. Miller was given free access to said information including personnel records. I believe with Mr. Millers history and stated intentions, there is no way to tell whether he removed or planted items inside of Mr. Damico’s (former office manager) office in an attempt to further push his agenda and try to bring validity to his false statements and accusations of improprieties that have recently been stated at board meetings.”
Theft of governmental files is a violation of the law.
In another incident involving the Millers, a paramedic shift supervisor contacted Rios and said that the EDA’s supply of narcotics was gone from the safe. Rios said she advised her to report the possible theft to the police.
The following week, Rios was interviewed by Detective Phelps from the Exeter Police Department in regard to the apparent theft of narcotics from the EDA safe. She recounted what she told the police to her lawyers:
“That at a recent EDA board meeting Mr. Miller made a huge deal about there being a security issues. So big that it was odd. I worked the following Monday and Tuesday May 1 and 2 and that my partner and I had slept all night and did not get many calls but I believed it would be easy to pull the security records to see that a security code would have been punched in one of those nights and that I was certain that it was Mr. Miller and Mrs. Linda Miller because she was an expert at getting inside that safe which was difficult to open even with the code. I stated to him that she was asked to open the safe every time Lifestar Manager Jackie Paul needed to get in to the safe and that she also knew how to get into the locked doors with a credit card and that I had seen her do it when supply door had gotten inadvertently locked.”
Following Rios’ interview with the police regarding the theft of narcotics the interim manager, Fischer, told Rios that Miller had directed him to re-open an investigation against her regarding the blackmail case. Fischer alluded to the fact when talking with Rios that Miller was looking for any reason to fire Rios.
In addition to her complaints and police interview, Rios began working on a recall drive in February against EDA board members Miller and Kunkle.
Board President Sherer and board member Rob Hubbard resigned from the district late June and a third board member had resigned earlier that year. With only the two members facing recall left, Tony Miller and Darinda Kunkle fired Rios.
On June 30, 2017 interim manager TJ Fischer told her that the “board” had directed him to fire her, explaining that she was an “at will employee” and that her services were no longer needed.
A hearing is set for March 18, 2018 in Judge Bret Hilman’s courtroom.