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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Chopper Pilot in Gorilla Mask Calls Cal Fire Unfair

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A firefighting helicopter pilot who wore a gorilla mask on Halloween during a training exercise for recruits claims California reneged on a settlement agreement and violated his civil rights.

Daniel Clark sued the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, and five of its officials, including Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott, in Federal Court on Monday.

Clark, a former Santa Clara County firefighter, says he could see clearly through the gorilla mask he wore on Halloween 2013 as he flew recruits from Los Gatos to San Jose. "Defendant had clear visibility while he wore the mask, and the trip occurred without incident," the complaint states.

When supervisors heard about it and investigated two weeks later, he says, they violated his administrative protections under the Firefighter Bill of Rights.

Violating the California Firefighter Bill of Rights Act of 2007 in punishable by a fine of $25,000 per offense, Clark says.

In April 2014 he was suspended and his pay was reduced for violating safety protocols and federal aviation regulations.

He challenged the disciplinary action through a state administrative law procedure, and on Nov. 21, 2014, before a ruling came down, Cal Fire agreed to settle, he says. He says Cal Fire agreed to remove the disciplinary action from his employment record and repay him lost earnings, but it reneged on the deal.

He says Cal Fire never fully removed the discipline records, tricked him into waiving his due process rights by persuading him to sign a settlement contract under false pretenses, and delayed his payment of lost earnings.

He lost his health benefits during the 18-month process, and "incurred extreme medical costs" during that time, he says. To cap it off, he says, Cal Fire defamed him because he stuck up for his rights as a firefighter.

He seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction against defamation, and punitive damages of at least $650,000 for breach of contract, civil rights violations and defamation.

Cal Fire did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Clark is represented by Arash Khosrowshahi of Sacramento.

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