KANKAKEE — The Kankakee firefighter who received a one-shift suspension for allegedly attacking another firefighter during a fatal fire last year has been suspended twice since then, the city says.
The city provided the information in response to a federal lawsuit filed by Kankakee firefighter Lt. Michelle Giese. Both she and the city say Lt. Nathan Boyce physically assaulted her during an Oct. 18, 2018, fire, which was in a three-story, 100-unit building in the 100 block of West Mertens Street.
According to the city, Boyce walked off the job June 23 and was suspended for 32 hours, the equivalent of four work days for the average worker. That’s more than the 24 hours he received for allegedly assaulting Giese. Firefighters work 24-hour shifts.
On July 9, Boyce got into an argument with Dave Moye, a fellow firefighter and union president, according the city’s response. Moye later reported the confrontation nearly became physical and Boyce was not fit for duty, the city said. The response states Boyce was placed on administrative leave but fails to say for how long.
Boyce and Giese still are with the department.
In her lawsuit, Giese maintained she was trying to assist an elderly woman who had caught fire in the hallway. Boyce, without provocation, incoherently screamed at Giese, then picked her up by her shoulder harness, lifted her off her feet and shoved her into a wall, according to the lawsuit.
In its response, the city admitted while responding to the fire call, Boyce screamed at Giese and shoved her into a wall. As for the remaining allegations, the city said it denied them or lacked sufficient knowledge to say whether they were true.
Giese further asserted Boyce refused to let her go and the two fell around the corner into the bathroom hallway, allowing other firefighters to go through the hallway. Boyce slammed Giese against the wall three more times, and she took the blows so the other firefighters could rescue victims, according to the lawsuit.
The city confirmed Boyce did not immediately let go of Giese after grabbing her and other firefighters got the victims out of the building. An elderly woman died in the blaze.
Also in the lawsuit, Giese alleged Schuldt told union members that Boyce’s one-day suspension was to ensure that the fire and police commission and city administration were not notified of the incident and that it was kept out of public view.
In its response, the city denied the allegation.
On Nov. 5, Giese said she called the human resources department about the attack. In the process, she spoke with city Comptroller Elizabeth Kubal, who promised she would inform the city’s part-time human resources director and that Giese should receive a call back that day. Giese did not receive a return call, the lawsuit said.
Within minutes of her call, Fire Chief Damon Schuldt called Giese to confront her about contacting human resources, the lawsuit said.
During the call, Giese told the chief she was mentally and emotionally drained, to which he replied, “It’s a good thing it’s all over then,” according to the lawsuit. He then allegedly encouraged her to trade shifts with other lieutenants so she did not work with same shift as Boyce. He also said Boyce knew the severity of the situation and would never assault Giese again, the lawsuit said.
In its response, the city said Schuldt told Giese, who was assigned to a different shift than Boyce, that if she was going to trade shifts, it would be good to avoid Boyce’s.
Boyce’s lawyer, Matthew Clark, with Rosemont-based Knight, Hoppe, Kurnik & Knight, did not return a message for comment. Nor did Schuldt or Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong.
The federal lawsuit was filed in July.
Several aldermen contacted by the Daily Journal during the summer said they were unaware of the lawsuit until the Daily Journal reported about it in August. A city attorney informed the City Council in a closed session afterward.
In September, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong chastised the Daily Journal for writing about the litigation, saying such reporting does not benefit the community.
The city took more than a month to respond to the newspaper’s request for documents on the alleged firefighter assault, missing deadlines under state law.
The Daily Journal last month obtained documents showing that chief found Boyce had physically assaulted Giese.
While the city agrees with some of the lawsuit’s key allegations, city attorney Mike McGrath said in a September email to the Daily Journal, “This matter will be fully litigated and the city is very confident the allegations made by the plaintiff will be unfounded.”