Fire video in home leads to $500,000 suit against Lincoln

Fire video in home leads to $500,000 suit against Lincoln

LINCOLN - A Lincoln couple suffering from "invasions of privacy, severe emotional distress and damages" has filed a $500,000 claim against the town after they say a Lincoln rescue worker posted a video of the inside of their home online, causing anxiety, lost wages and reason to search for a new house.

The Town Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to deny the claim and refer it to the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust.

According to the letter submitted by attorney William J. Conley Jr. on July 3, firefighter Kenneth LaBelle was among the Lime Rock and Lonsdale fire personnel who entered the home of Randy and Elizabeth Roberts, whose home is located in a neighborhood off Angell Road, after a fire ignited in a closet on March 24, 2012.

LaBelle "captured a video recording of the inner dwellings of the Petitioners' home," the claim states, without permission from the Roberts family and "while acting within the scope of his employment and under the color of authority granted to him as an emergency responder for the Lonsdale Fire District."

Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond said LaBelle, who Rescue Chief Ronald Gagne said has worked for the department for 16 years, was disciplined a week after this incident based on policy that does not allow such photography to be taken while an employee is on the job.

"Our matter is closed," Almond said.

LaBelle, who did not return a call for comment, is the founder of Northern Rhode Island Fire Photos, a for-profit business established in 2006 for which he photographs fires and firefighters in action, as well as motor vehicle accidents and funerals for first responders.

He has a website and social media pages operating under the "NRI Fire Photos" moniker, and he has had his work published in various news and fire trade publications.

His website, www.nrifirephotos.com, states that he has been involved in fire service since 1992, was hired full-time in 1997, and holds the rank of captain. He says on the site, "I have been 'buffing' fires for many years and became very active with fireground photography in 2006 when I purchased my first digital camera."

LaBelle is also listed on the Lincoln Rescue and Firefighters, Local 3023, website as one of two webmasters, and one of four members of the Health & Safety Committee.

A search by The Breeze finds that LaBelle posted a link to the YouTube video of the Roberts' fire on his NRI Fire Photos Twitter account the day after it happened, on March 25, along with the home address. The video has since been removed, but not until May or June, the claim states, after the Roberts realized it was there.

They then reported it to Almond, the claim states, who "informed the Petitioners that he was already aware of similar reports regarding Mr. LaBelle and the Town was already conducting an internal investigation into Mr. LaBelle's practices."

Almond then reportedly assured the couple the video would be removed and LaBelle disciplined.

"As a direct and proximate result of the Town's failure to supervise and appropriately discipline Mr. LaBelle," the claim states, "Mrs. Roberts fears for the safety of her family because of the publication of a video recording of her home. She was prescribed medication and has been advised to seek counseling to help mitigate her anxiety."

Mr. Roberts has also given up evening shifts as a police officer "to help lessen his wife's anxiety," it states. "This has resulted in Mr. Roberts losing significant opportunities for extra shifts, wages and overtime."

The claim continues, "The Petitioners have also purchased a home alarm system and are actively seeking to purchase a new house as a result of the publication of the video recording."

Conley could not be reached at his law office by press time.