A former East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services supervisor has settled a lawsuit that claimed he was wrongfully demoted for a “high-level security breach” in which a group of Muslims delivered dinners and Qurans to the emergency communications center on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
Jeremy Torres sued the city-parish after he and a colleague were disciplined for leaving the group unattended in the lobby of the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness building.
City-parish officials contended Torres’ demotion was justified because the women were left unsupervised for several minutes, a violation of protocol that jeopardized the “entire public safety dispatching for the parish,” according to court filings.
Torres’ attorney, Jill Craft, has characterized the discipline as an “appalling” overreaction fueled by “illegal racial and religious profiling.” She said no security issues were raised when Christian organizations made deliveries to the building.
Craft confirmed Monday the two sides had reached a settlement, but declined to discuss the terms because they had not yet been finalized. “We wholeheartedly believe that you just can’t make those (disciplinary) decisions in the manner they were made,” she said.
Kim Brooks, senior special assistant parish attorney, declined to comment on the settlement, which came one week before a jury trial was to be held in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge.
An investigation determined the Sept. 11, 2010, security breach endangered some 40 public safety officials on a day authorities should have been exercising heightened awareness, according to court filings.
At least three EMS employees, including Torres, were disciplined in the fallout.
Torres later resigned from EMS in May 2011, said Mike Chustz, an agency spokesman.
Craft said the demotion had “a significant impact” on Torres, who had been recognized as an EMS communications officer of the year.
The breach also prompted the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to have an engineering firm conduct a “facility assessment” that resulted in the installation of additional cameras in the building.
The visitors raised eyebrows among some officials when they dropped by the center between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. because they came dressed in traditional Muslim attire, court records show. One of the women called the center to say she was outside wanting to deliver food and gifts for the employees on duty.
The women brought the food in an act of kindness, an administrative law judge found, “to show that all Muslims do not support and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks on the United States.”
The visitors included Jane Aslam, who had attended a number of emergency preparedness meetings at MOHSEP in her capacity with a Muslim group working on disaster response. Aslam had called the day before seeking permission to deliver the meals but was not given a definitive answer, according to court records.
John Brazzel, a communications officer who was also disciplined, allowed the women into the lobby but decided to check with Torres, his supervisor, and left them unsupervised. Torres went to the lobby and accepted foam boxes of food and a gift bag from the women, which he put in a container and carried back to his colleagues, leaving the visitors behind.
Craft has contended no security breach occurred because the group was only allowed into the lobby, which is open to the public.
City-parish officials noted the visit occurred after hours on a Saturday evening, when no front desk personnel were present.
Stacy Simmons, the emergency communications chief of operations at the time, called the center that evening and was told that “al-Qaida fed us lunch,” according to court records. Simmons, who has filed a separate lawsuit, was demoted to shift supervisor for not immediately reporting the incident to her supervisor.