An attorney who is anticipating suing Okaloosa County on behalf of victims of a paramedic “selfie war” first wants county officials punished for violating Florida's Sunshine Law.
J. Alistair McKenzie claims in a complaint for relief filed May 3 that Chrystal King, the county’s records custodian, failed to provide records he requested in March and, when pressed for them, “placed artificial and unreasonable restrictions in (his clients’) way to delay and prevent access.”
A status conference on the complaint was held Wednesday and a hearing date has been scheduled for 3 p.m. June 18.
McKenzie is calling on Circuit Judge William Stone to find the county guilty of a non-criminal violation of the Sunshine Law and assess a fine $500 and reimbursement of attorneys’ fees.
He is also seeking a declaration that public records laws were violated and an injunction “preventing and prohibiting” future violations by requiring the county to “remove its illegal policies and procedures.”
“They need to change the way they do business,” McKenzie said. “They’ve refused to follow the Florida Constitution and Chapter 119 of State Statutes. To put it simply, they’ve violated the Sunshine Law.”
McKenzie has notified the county he intends to sue on behalf of about six people who claim to have been victimized by the actions of Christopher Wimmer and Kayla DuBois, two former Okaloosa County EMTs who engaged in a “selfie war” by taking photos of incapacitated patients in their care.
Many of the victims were intubated, sedated or unconscious when their pictures were taken, authorities said in July 2016 when announcing the two emergency management technicians were facing multiple felony charges.
Wimmer ultimately was sentenced to six months in jail for his role in the selfie wars. DuBois’s charges were reduced to misdemeanors and she was sentenced to two years' probation.
The records McKenzie requested from the county included the personnel files of Wimmer and DuBois and communications between county employees in which Wimmer, DuBois or the selfie war were mentioned.
The request also called for county policy procedures, medical and privacy policies governing EMTs and communications between the State Attorney's Office and the county pertaining to Wimmer and DuBois.
“We wanted to obtain the public records so we can understand how Okaloosa County policies and procedures work and what Okaloosa County officials knew and when they knew,” McKenzie said.
The public records lawsuit states that King, the county’s records custodian, failed to respond to an initial March request for the records, and when contacted in April, informed McKenzie's office that “the county would not be providing a response and that the request and documents ... had been given to a private defense attorney to review and respond.”
King was contacted again May 2 about the status of the records’ request, the complaint states. She told McKenzie’s staff at that time “when there are legal claims potentially associated with a public records request they (the county) have a policy of having an attorney review and respond to the records request.”
County Attorney Greg Stewart said requests such as the one made by McKenzie typically are treated with greater care than more routine requests.
"Generally, there is legal review of a response to a public record request where the request is related to pending or threatened litigation or where the documents involve statutory exemptions or confidentiality aspects that require more detailed or specialized review to be assured that all exemptions or confidentiality are being addressed," he said.
McKenzie said Wednesday that after he filed the lawsuit he was able to obtain most of the records initially requested, but added his issue with the county “is broader than that.”
“We don’t believe we’ve received remedy just because we obtained the records,” he said. “This action was filed because Okaloosa County refuses to follow public records law.”
Kerry Parsons, an attorney with the law firm of Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson, is representing the county in the public records case.
She agreed at Wednesday’s hearing to provide McKenzie with requested policies and procedures before the upcoming hearing and to schedule a deposition of King. She did verify that the county intended to call a witness in its defense.
Parsons said a county response to McKenzie's complaint will be filed by the end of this week. She was unavailable for comment following the hearing.