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City of Houston makes about-face after filing liens against the widows of four fallen firefighters

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner hired a private attorney to file liens on behalf of the city against the families of the fallen firefighters, but made an about-face after the word got out to the community. (Image source: Video screenshot)

The city of Houston made an about-face after information got out about the liens it filed against the widows and families of four Houston firefighters who died in the line of duty five years ago, KRIV-TV reported.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner hired a private attorney to file liens on behalf of the city against the families and or estates of Mathew Renaud, Robert Bebee, Anne Sullivan and Robert Garner to recover some of the medical and ambulatory costs it incurred trying to save the firefighters' lives.

The city had hoped it could recoup some of the money from possible settlements and judgments the families filed against private companies that they believe contributed to the deaths of their loved ones, KRIV reported.

Motorola is among the companies being sued by the families after complaints that the firefighters' radios were not working during the fire.

It also placed a lien against Robert Yarbrough, who survived the deadly fire but  suffered severe injuries during the massive hotel fire on May 31, 2013, that left 12 other firefighters injured, according to KTRK-TV.

How much was the city trying to get?

The city was seeking an average of $20,000 from each of the deceased firefighters' families and $50,000 from Yarbrough, according to KRIV.

What did the city council say?

Councilman Michael Kubosh said he was shocked when he heard about the claims against the firefighters' families.

"I just couldn't believe it. The optics of it are terrible," Kubosh told KRIV.  "Why would we file liens against the estate of people who have died in the service of our city?"

He said he immediately called the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association to find out if it was indeed true.

What did the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association say?

Marty Lancton, president of the HPFFA, called the liens "disgusting."

"If there is any attempt ever to put a lien or ask for money on firefighters that have given the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, there is no other word to use," Lancton told KRIV Wednesday night.

When did the city change its mind?

Shortly before Kubosh and Lancton were set to go on-air Wednesday night to discuss the lawsuits, the city issued a statement to KRIV that said it would not be moving forward with the liens.

“The City is not pursuing recovery on any lien from anyone in this case,” Mary Benton, press secretary for the mayor, wrote in a statement.

What did the lawyer for the families say?

Lawyer Ben Hall, who's representing the firefighters' families, told the news station that he was unaware of the city's change of heart, but if it's true that's "good news to him."

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