A criminal complaint has been filed against Collier County Commissioner Fred Coyle and Jeff Page, chief of Collier Emergency Medical Services, alleging they used an illegally intercepted recording.
Richard Gonzalez, owner and instructor at Medical Career Institute in Bonita Springs, told Collier commissioners Tuesday he filed the complaint to the Collier County Sheriff's Office in reference to an investigation the county requested against his school. The institute offers classes and training for students seeking licenses as a paramedics and for other medical careers. In November, the County Commission voted 4-1 to request a state investigation of the school after Page accused Gonzalez of distributing test questions to students days before the test was administered. Some of those students are firefighters in Collier departments.
However, Gonzalez claimed the county, in determining to file the complaint, used an unauthorized cellphone recording made by a student in his class. He said Coyle and Page were aware he did not authorize the recording. The State Bureau of EMS cleared the school of wrongdoing on March 1. Gonzalez claimed Page forced a student in his class to turn over the cellphone recording made while Gonzalez was teaching a class. Gonzalez said he did not authorize the recording, which would make its use a felony. Florida law requires consent of all parties involved before communication can be recorded.
Michelle Batten, a spokeswoman for the Collier Sheriff's Office, confirmed on Tuesday the department received the complaint. In an email to the Daily News, she wrote the complaint is currently "in the process of being assigned for follow-up investigation." Gonzalez announced his complaint after Commissioner Georgia Hiller asked the commission and County Manager Leo Ochs to apologize for accusations made against the instructor and students in his class. Hiller, who was not on the commission when it voted to file its complaint, said the county had no right to interfere with Gonzalez's private business in Lee County. Commissioner Fred Coyle, who voted in favor of filing the complaint, said the commission wasn't casting judgment on the guilt of the parties in question, but felt the allegations were serious enough to prompt an investigation.
On Tuesday, Coyle said the purpose of November's hearing on the accusations was to ensure county staff wasn't requested frivolous investigations. "The point is: We did not allow the staff to submit a complaint until we heard it and examined it," Coyle said. But Gonzalez said that public hearing hurt his business. On Tuesday he said enrollment for his school dropped after the public accusations because potential students were worried about whether the state would punish the school.
Furthermore, he said the investigation was simply another way for the county to try to smear the North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District. Several students in the class that was investigated were firefighters with the North Naples fire district. Eloy Ricardo, a North Naples firefighter, pointed out the fire district was in a disagreement with county EMS over increasing its level of service at the time the accusations surfaced. Commissioners voted 3-2 not to apologize or retract statements made against the Medical Career Institute and Gonzalez. Commissioners Coyle, Donna Fiala and Jim Coletta, who voted in favor of the investigation in November, also voted against a public apology on Tuesday. Henning, who was the only commissioner who voted against requesting the investigation, voted for Hiller's motion for a retraction. Fiala said she was glad the investigation cleared the institute and its students. However, she explained it was necessary at the time to let the Bureau of EMS examine the accusations. "If we had not voted to send it in to Tallahassee, then everyone would have accused us of trying to hide something," she said.
Although Coyle did not talk directly about the complaint filed against him, he did say this episode has hurt the reputation of the emergency service community, including Collier EMS and the North Naples fire district. "There is no good side here," he said. "We have all lost some respect in the community."