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News / Clark County News

Federal judge dismisses hate crime, battery claims filed against Clark County Fire District 6 by Black former firefighter

But claims of disparate treatment, hostile work environment remain against fire district

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: May 13, 2024, 4:59pm

A federal judge dismissed claims of hate crime and battery in a lawsuit where a Black former Clark County Fire District 6 firefighter alleges a white recruit acted out a lynching by placing a noose around his neck during a knot-tying training in June 2022.

However, U.S. District Court Chief Judge David G. Estudillo did not dismiss other claims, including disparate treatment and hostile work environment. He denied the fire district’s motion to dismiss the case.

Fire District 6 spokesman David Schmitke said Monday the agency does not comment on active litigation.

“The district is confident that the public will recognize it handled the incident in question with swift and appropriate action,” he wrote in an email.

According to the complaint, filed in September in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Elijah Page was the only Black recruit in his fire academy class at Fire District 6 when he was hired in April 2022. During a break at a knot-tying training, a white recruit fashioned a rope into a noose, sneaked up behind Page, threw the noose over Page’s neck and tightened it, the complaint alleges.

Page told the white recruit he was deeply offended by the incident, which occurred in front of the other recruits, and felt emotionally devastated and outraged by the incident, the complaint states. None of his classmates did anything to stop it, the complaint alleges, some even apparently viewing the incident as a joke.

The complaint alleges leadership at the fire department were informed of the incident the day it occurred but did not fire the white recruit. He was instead terminated for failing to complete his probationary period.

Page alleges Fire Chief Kristan Maurer offered to serve as a reference for the white recruit.

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Officials at the fire district issued a gag order forbidding Page and the other recruits from speaking with anyone about the incident to avoid negative attention ahead of an August 2022 vote on a tax levy, Page alleges, which later passed. The gag order was in violation of district policies, the complaint states.

The complaint states Page felt unsafe continuing to work and was constructively discharged.

Vancouver attorney Angus Lee, who filed the complaint on behalf of Page, alleged numerous claims, including a hostile work environment, racial discrimination, a violation of Page’s First Amendment rights, battery and hate crime.

Page’s “complaint pleads a severe, physical invasion fueled by racial animus,” Estudillo wrote in the May 7 order.

Page was stripped of some legal rights as a result of his employment and the district’s effort to avoid backlash in light of the upcoming levy vote, the judge wrote.

However, because the white recruit acted outside of the scope of his employment, the fire district cannot be held liable for the white recruit’s actions, Estudillo wrote. He dismissed Page’s claims of hate crime and battery.

Estudillo did not dismiss Page’s claims of disparate treatment and hostile work environment, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice, meaning a violation of Page’s civil rights. Trial is scheduled for Dec. 2, court records show.

“This ruling is a crucial step forward in the fight against racial discrimination and for the protection of civil rights within public institutions,” Lee said in a statement. “It affirms the legal standing of Mr. Page’s claims and sets the stage for a thorough examination of the facts through the discovery process.”

Fire District 6 serves a large unincorporated area of Clark County, including Hazel Dell, Felida and Salmon Creek.