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Hawaii Fire Department chief faces civil rights lawsuit

HILO » Two former battalion chiefs of the Hawaii Fire Department are suing the fire chief, claiming they were suspended for publicly criticizing him.

Attorney Ted Hong filed the civil rights lawsuits in Hilo Circuit Court on behalf of Ty Medeiros and Steve Loyola earlier this month. The complaints, which name both Chief Darren Rosario and the county as defendants, allege they were retaliated against for being whistleblowers, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

Loyola, who is now retired, and Medeiros were battalion chiefs when they sent letters to the Fire Commission and Mayor Billy Kenoi accusing Rosario of putting lives and safety at risk because of insufficient hurricane and tsunami emergency plans.

The two firefighters were stripped of their badges and battalion chief insignia and placed on administrative leave.

After an internal investigation was conducted, Medeiros was given back his badge and insignia and allowed to return to work on June 30, 2015. Hong claims Loyola was “actually forced to take a retirement” because he had been running out of leave and needed “to earn some sort of money for his family.”

In March, the Merit Appeals Board rejected claims that Loyola and Medeiros were entitled to overtime and vacation pay they lost while on leave. The board had found the chief’s actions were administrative, not disciplinary.

“The insignia and the badges are county property. And just like police officers are required to turn in their badges and weapons when they are placed on administrative leave, so are fire department personnel,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Steve Strauss, who represented Rosario before the panel.

Strauss said the lawsuits have no merit and described Medeiros’ and Loyola’s actions as “a failed coup attempt.” He said the county will seek to have the complaints dismissed.

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  • Sounds like political retaliation. This happens from time to time. Maybe these guys were trying to get rid of the Chief, maybe they were just trying to get things done. But, unless the Chief went thru the proper required processes, these guys got an advantage.

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