During the Christmas season of 2015, Pamela Burman was trying to change for the better.
The former Dallas resident said Monday that she had been living at a women’s shelter by Fort Walton Beach and attending church services — all while continuing her battle against alcoholism. She recalled how she helped decorate the Christmas tree at the shelter on Christmas Eve two years ago.
But that holiday soon took a turn for the worse, and Burman says that if she looks back on it too much, she becomes sick and loses sleep.
Burman, who is now 55, is one of the 41 people who authorities say were photographed or videotaped by two former Okaloosa County paramedics who participated in a so-called “selfie war.” Paramedics Kayla Renee Dubois, of Navarre, and Christopher Robert Wimmer, of Crestview, reportedly began their competition in September 2015 and continued it into the following spring.
Sheriff’s Office investigators said Dubois, who is now 25, and Wimmer, now 34, used their personal cellphones to photograph and record patients who were intubated, sedated, intoxicated or otherwise unconscious while being treated on the scene or in an ambulance.
Dubois was later charged with two felony counts, and Wimmer with seven felony counts, of interception and disclosure of oral communications. Wimmer also was charged with one misdemeanor count of battery in connection with a Feb. 22, 2016, incident in which he allegedly held open the eyelids of a sedated 26-year-old woman for a selfie.
Dubois was fired from her job May 20, 2016, and Wimmer resigned the same day. They both pleaded not guilty to the charges last September.
'Who can you trust?'
On Monday, Burman said other than decorating the Christmas tree, she doesn’t remember much of what happened on Christmas Eve 2015.
“I overdosed on alcohol,” said Burman, who now lives in Fort Walton Beach. “A girl gave me a bottle of Fireball whisky. I had never drank whisky, and I got alcohol poisoning. I was incoherent.”
Burman said someone called for help, but that she doesn’t recall what happened afterward. Burman said she didn’t find out anything more about that day until a Sheriff’s Office investigator visited her last June and told her that Wimmer had recorded her on video.
“The investigator told me the EMS had been called out for me on Christmas Eve and that (Wimmer) videotaped me and laughed and smirked at me,” she said. “The investigator said, ‘Did you give your consent to be videotaped?’ I said, ‘No.’”
Burman said she felt some relief after the investigator told her she was fully clothed while being videotaped. But hearing about the incident mostly made her feel “like someone just dumped ice water on me,” she said.
“I talk about this with my therapist,” said Burman, sobbing. “When you can’t trust the EMS, who can you trust?”
Burman said while her attorney, Joel Cohen, of Pensacola, has a copy of the video recording, she refuses to view it.
“I told my lawyer that I don’t want to see the video,” she said. “But I will be there in that courtroom” when the judicial system decides the fates of Dubois and Wimmer.
Cohen on Tuesday said he has filed notice of his intent to sue the county for undisclosed damages on behalf of Burman.
He said Wimmer filmed Burman talking with a deputy who was trying to remove her from the women’s shelter, which doesn’t allow its residents to drink alcohol. The video lasted for about 2-3 minutes, Cohen said.
“You could hear (Wimmer) commenting while he was filming it” he said. “He was amusing himself and laughing.”
Cohen said the incident greatly harmed his client.
“It appears she has profound (psychological) damages,” he said.
Burman said she has lived in a state of worry and fear ever since the investigator told her last summer about the video.
“I almost left Fort Walton Beach on account of it,” she said. “This is a small town. Everyone knows everyone. What happens when I go apply for a job?”
Assistant State Attorney Clifton Drake, who is prosecuting the selfie-war court case, said a tentative trial date for Dubois and Wimmer has been set for May 1. The case will be tried by a jury before county Circuit Judge William Stone in the County Courthouse Annex Extension, 1940 Lewis Turner Blvd.
Drake said the majority of the photographs and videos in the selfie war were taken inside county ambulances. The maximum sentence for each count of interception and disclosure of oral communications is five years in jail and the maximum for the misdemeanor battery count is one year of incarceration.
“I can’t give a prediction on what will happen, but I’m still seeking jail time” for Dubois and Wimmer, Drake said.
The Sheriff’s Office investigation into the selfie war began last May, based on a complaint by county EMS Chief Tracey Vause. Immediately afterward, the county Department of Public Safety Department implemented a policy prohibiting personal electronic devices in the patient compartments of the EMS division ambulances, Vause said Tuesday.
“We also disabled the camera and video capabilities on all of our county-issued cellphones,” he said. “All employees were trained and tested on the new policy.”
Vause said federal privacy regulations governing protected health information prevent employee-monitoring types of cameras from being been installed in the patient compartments.
“Our supervisors and training staff remain vigilant in ensuring our healthcare providers receive effective training and oversight,” he said.
“Our patients' privacy, dignity and good health are the principle concerns in every patient encounter.”