Felony charges against a veteran paramedic who stepped down amid allegations that he choked a mentally ill woman in San Francisco have been dropped under a plea agreement with prosecutors.
The plea bargain includes no jail time for Raymond Lee, who was recorded on a police body camera allegedly placing his hand around the 20-year-old woman’s neck in the back of an ambulance in the Sunset District.
Lee, 46, pleaded no contest last Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace under the deal and agreed to two years probation. He also retired from the San Francisco Fire Department last month as a condition of the agreement.
“A primary objective in this disposition was that the defendant would never have the opportunity to harm another patient in his care,” said Max Szabo, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office.
Attorney James Bustamante, who represented Lee, described the deal as “fair.”
“There was no grabbing of her throat as alleged,” Bustamante said Tuesday. “The end result is that it was resolved more in line with what actually happened.”
Lee allegedly choked the woman May 23, 2017 after her mother called the police to report that her daughter had threatened to commit suicide.
The San Francisco Examiner first reported the case last month after details of the allegations came to light in separate civil lawsuits, including one filed by the rookie police officer who was fired for allegedly covering up for Lee.
Former Officer Michael Filamor sued the San Francisco Police Department in August, seeking reinstatement to the force. Chief Bill Scott fired Filamor for muting the sound on his body camera and for not reporting the incident.
In another lawsuit, the mentally ill patient sued Lee in San Francisco Superior Court, alleging that she was not only choked but that Lee broke her arm in three places.
Lee faced internal discipline as a result of the alleged choking and was charged with three felonies including assault under the color of authority.
“I didn’t see the basis for him being charged or the department’s actions against my client,” said Bustamante. “My guy had no criminal history, an impeccable record as a paramedic for the SFFD and as far as I’m concerned on that day did a good job.”
Lee is also currently facing litigation to strip him of his state paramedic license.
In October, the director of the California Emergency Medical Services Authority temporarily suspended his license pending disciplinary hearings.
In filings the Examiner obtained Tuesday, an EMSA chief alleged that Lee “physically abused a restrained, mentally altered patient using excessive force in the back of the ambulance before and while in route to the hospital.”
“Respondent stood up and with his right hand, in an open C-Clamp position, grabbed the patient by the throat,” EMSA Personnel Division Chief Sean Trask wrote Oct. 18. “His right thumb was on her right carotid and his right fingers were over the left side of her neck.”
Trask described Lee as holding his grip over her throat “for ten full seconds.”
The alleged choking raised concerns about the level of training offered in the SFFD to calm situations with mentally ill patients.
In the disciplinary filings, Trask said Lee failed to de-escalate the situation.
“Respondent did not attempt verbal de-escalation in working with the patient, and in fact did just the opposite when he was heard yelling “Shut-up” to the patient,” Trask wrote. “In the body camera footage, after the patient told Respondent that he broke her arm, she said to Respondent ‘nobody cares about me’ and Respondent said, ‘nobody cares.’”
Filamor’s federal lawsuit is ongoing.