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Okaloosa County paramedics snapped selfies with unconscious patients for fun, police say

To Kayla Renee Dubois, 24, and Christopher Wimmer, 33, the selfies they allegedly took were an amusing workplace rivalry.

From September 2015 to April of this year, police said, the pair would snap photos while on the job. It escalated into something of a friendly competition. Texts between the two paramedics egged each other on to "step up" their game, according to the sheriff's office in Okaloosa County.

For the paramedics, the photographs might have been a funny diversion. For their victims and the police, if this was a game it was a "sick, juvenile" one, as Okaloosa Sheriff Larry Ashley said in a press conference Thursday, via CW 55.

The two had launched what the police describe as a "selfie war," photographing patients as they lay in the backs of ambulances - often unconscious, intubated or anesthetized.

Dubois has been charged with a third degree felony for two counts of "interception and disclosure of oral communications." She was arrested in Navarre on Thursday morning. Wimmer, who Okaloosa authorities say turned himself in later that afternoon, faces the same charge — on seven counts — plus misdemeanor battery.

By police's best initial estimate, the photographs show 41 different patients, ages spanning 24 to 86. Three patients seem to have consented to taking their photographs with their paramedics.

As for the rest, two patients have since died. Five were identified as homeless. The most egregious instances allegedly involve Wimmer, who, the authorities said, took a photo while peeling open the eyelid of a sedated individual. In another image, he is seen next to an elderly woman, her breast visible.

In May, the selfie war came to an end. Wimmer resigned from his paramedic post at Okaloosa County EMS and Dubois was fired. Supervisors terminated three other individuals who knew about the selfies but kept mum. Police praised three nameless paramedics who provided tips about the photographs, which led to the arrests of Dubois and Wimmer.

CW 55 reported that the prosecutor in the case will seek the maximum sentences, which can be five to seven years for the felony charges.

That health care workers may abuse or otherwise take advantage of patients is a problem under increasing scrutiny. Occasionally, doctors acting inappropriately toward sedated individuals is highlighted in top journals like the Annals of Internal Medicine, which in 2015 published an account of sexual abuse by physicians.

In some cases, patients who surreptitiously record their surgeries awake to find disturbing details. One woman tucked an audio recorder in her hair prior to a hernia surgery; while she was unconscious, as The Washington Post reported in April, the audio revealed doctors disparagingly called her "Precious" and made a "Bill Cosby suggestion" about touching her. A Virginia man who recorded his colonoscopy on his smartphone, to remember the post-operation instructions, found that the anesthesiologist mocked and insulted him.

In other instances, casting such a light requires criminal complaints. In January, The Post reported a 29-year-old patient of David H. Newman, a New York emergency room doctor, filed a complaint alleging he fondled her and masturbated after giving the woman a strong dose of morphine.

Okaloosa County paramedics snapped selfies with unconscious patients for fun, police say 07/22/16 [Last modified: Friday, July 22, 2016 8:31am]
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