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Calif. city to pay $800K to family of man who died after firefighters wouldn't enter his care center because of COVID rules
Screenshot of Orange County Register YouTube video

Calif. city to pay $800K to family of man who died after firefighters wouldn't enter his care center because of COVID rules

A city in California has settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a woman whose father died shortly after firefighters refused to enter his care center because of alleged COVID-19 protocols.

On the evening of November 17, 2021, 911 dispatchers received a call from a nurse about an unresponsive patient at the Rialto Post Acute Care Center, a rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility in Rialto, California, about 50 miles due east of Los Angeles.

The unresponsive patient was Joseph Angulo, a 56-year-old man who had entered the facility almost two weeks earlier following a car crash. Body cam footage from Rialto police Sgt. Ralph Ballew revealed that care center staff believed Angulo was in cardiac arrest and frantically attempted to resuscitate him while they waited for first responders.

However, despite the urgent situation, three members of the Rialto Fire Department — Fire Capt. Josh Gilliam, firefighter-paramedic Matt Payne, and fire engineer Mark Brady — calmly waited outside the facility, refusing to go inside. "They're not gonna come in," Ballew can be heard telling care center employees. "They're saying it's a state law that they can't come in."

"You are doing the same thing we would have to do if we went in, so hurry up and bring him out so we can help," one firefighter yelled, according to a later report from Ballew.

Earlier that evening, the three firefighters had reportedly entered the facility at least twice, so their strict adherence to supposed protocols in this case seems curious. Nonetheless, to accommodate their COVID-related demands, a handful of employees detached Angulo's bed. Then, Sgt. Ballew pushed the bed, which reportedly had no wheels, to an emergency exit, while others steered and an unidentified woman continued chest compressions on Angulo.

Once they were outdoors, the first responders took over and transported Angulo to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, where he later died.

Within a year, Angulo's daughter, Bridgette Angulo, had filed a $100 million lawsuit with the City of Rialto. The city had also fired Gilliam and Payne and suspended Brady for 10 shifts. Rialto Fire Chief Brian Park claimed in November 2022 that first responders were never prohibited from entering such care facilities and that by late 2021, most of the COVID-related restrictions had been lifted.

However, in a shocking development, the department reinstated Gilliam and Payne in January after Kenneth Perea decided an arbitration case in their favor. They were awarded back pay and returned to their rank in seniority, but were assessed a one-week suspension without pay. Brady also had the incident expunged from his record and received full backpay for his suspension. Perea determined that while a "preponderance of the evidence" supported the accusations against the men, their original punishment was too harsh.

Despite the controversial ruling from Perea, the City of Rialto agreed to the $800,000 settlement with Ms. Angulo last month. On Monday, she signed the agreement as well.

Her attorney, William Shapiro, claimed that she wasn't as interested in the money as in ensuring such cases never happen again.

"Bridgette Angulo is proud and confident that as a result of her civil action and the full independent investigation that went into this incident, future emergency care provided by the Rialto Fire Department will meet the full expectations of the citizens of Rialto," Shapiro said.

Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson likewise issued a statement: "We continue to mourn the patient’s death and our prayers are with the patient’s family in hopes that we may all heal through settlement of this unfortunate matter."

An attorney who represented the firefighters during the arbitration process did not respond to the San Bernardino Sun's request for comment.

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Cortney Weil

Cortney Weil

Sr. Editor, News

Cortney Weil is a senior editor for Blaze News.
@cortneyweil →