Okaloosa County officials are trying to reassure residents following the arrest of two former EMS paramedics for using their cell phones to take “selfies” and videos with patients in their ambulances.
24-year-old Kayla Dubois of Navarre and 33-year-old Christopher Wimmer of Crestview were arrested Thursday after a two-month investigation by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
Dubois, who was fired May 20, and Wimmer, who resigned the same day, reportedly recorded 64 videos and took about 100 photos with patients they were transporting for their own amusement as part of an alleged “selfie war” competition.
Many of the patients involved were intubated, sedated or otherwise unconscious at the time at the time the photos and videos were taken.
“Some were innocuous. Some were vile,” said Okaloosa Sheriff Larry Ashley. “Anytime the expectation of privacy, and especially when you’re incapacitated, in your most dire need, the last thing you need is someone taking a picture of you in a selfie, for whatever reason; for entertainment, humiliation or for whatever reason.”
Dubois is charged with two counts of interception and disclosure of oral communications, which is a third degree felony. (Florida Statute 934.03 (1)(a).
Wimmer faces seven counts of the same charge, along with a misdemeanor battery charge. The battery charge involves Wimmer holding open the eyelid of a sedated patient for a selfie.
According to investigators, he also posed with an elderly woman with her breast exposed.
A total of 41 patients were initially identified. Two are since deceased and three appear consensual. Of the remaining 36 patients, 19 are female and 17 are male. Five are homeless. They range in age from 24 to 86.
“I can tell you that the victims we identified and talked to were angry, were frustrated, were hurt and their biggest fear is that these things have been shared on social media,” Ashley said.
“Disappointment is not the word for it, but we’re all disappointed,” said Kelly Windes, Chairman of the Okaloosa County Commission. “We’re somewhat outraged if you will. “
Windes says it’s unfortunate that a very few number of employees out of a staff of about 130 can discredit the whole organization. “It’s just unfortunate that some employees made these poor choices, terrible choices, in fact,” said Chairman Windes.
The sheriff’s office launched their probe on May 13 after Okaloosa County Public Safety officials learned of the allegations about Dubois and Wimmer from three other EMS employees a week earlier.
Chairman Windes says it will take time, but the county already has begun to address the situation. He says there have been some training changes and the implementation of new restrictions regarding the use of cell phones in the back of an ambulance. He also points to a certified HIPPA program, which provides employees the opportunity to consult with a privacy officer.
Also, Okaloosa County EMS Chief Tracey Vause immediately put out a general statement to the staff and has scheduled a staff meeting for next Friday, July 29.
Commission Chairman Kelly Windes wants to reassure the public that they’re doing everything to prevent similar behavior from happening again.
“The efficiency and purpose of Public Safety and EMS and all will not be compromised,” said Windes. “We’re going to go on and we got outstanding people in there, other than these few of course. So, this, too, will pass. It’s unfortunate and we’ve all been embarrassed and somewhat shaken by it. But, we will get on with it and things will get back to normal and things will be right.”
Dubois and Wimmer are likely to lose their certification to work as paramedics. Also, face up to five years in prison if convicted.