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9 firefighters sue CNMI government after being fired for refusing to take coronavirus vaccine

By Johnnie Rosario

Nine firefighters fired by Republican CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres for refusing to be vaccinated from the coronavirus are suing the government in local court to be reinstated with backpay and attorneys fees.

Fired firefighters Paul Acebedo, Jose Angui, Allen Calvo, Cain Castro, Argenon Flores, Derek Gersonde, Shawn Kaipat, Philip Kalen, and Adam Safer in their lawsuit state "Several firefighters were reluctant to receive the vaccine due to their concerns over its possibly adverse short-term effects and its unknown long-term effects."

The reluctance followed February 2021 emergency use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to the men's lawsuit, "An EUA for an unapproved medical product is subject to certain required conditions, including those recipients of the product be informed that they have the option to accept or refuse its administration." Their lawsuit references federal law: 21 USC §360bbb-3(e)(1)(A)(ii)(III).

Within days of the EUA approval, Mr. Torres issued Directive 2021-002, "mandating that all executive branch employees be vaccinated against Covid-19." A month later, his commissioner of fire and emergency management services, Dennis Mendiola, announced that all DFEMS employees were required to register for the vaccine by March 18, 2021.

The nine men refused, and were fired for insubordination on May 21, 2021.

"The fact that we have had individuals in the CNMI that were fully vaccinated and were still able to not only contract COVID-19 but also able to spread COVID-19 raises even more concerns," plaintiff Gersonde stated in a public letter he wrote in April. "Religion does not tell me not to take this vaccine. My heart, conscience, and body is telling me not to. If something just does not feel right, why must I be forced into doing it?"

"On April 28, 2021, Plaintiffs requested that the termination notices be rescinded, as the proposed terminations would violate their constitutional rights to individual privacy and due process of law," the lawsuit states. "The right of individual privacy includes a right of bodily integrity, protecting a person from, among other things, unconsented physical intrusions into his or her body... By mandating an unconsented physical intrusion into the Plaintiffs' bodies, to wit, the injection of a vaccine, Defendants have breached Plaintiffs' constitutional right of privacy."

This "right of individual privacy" is expressed in the CNMI Constitution's Article I Section 10: "The right of individual privacy shall not be infringed except upon a showing of compelling interest."

"For the past ten years, I have proudly served the DFEMS in a variety of roles: as a firefighter, EMT, first responder, and as the DFEMS public information officer and am grateful," wrote before he was fired. "Commissioner Dennis Mendiola wants us to "not complain but comply.” But I cannot remain silent and comply with something that goes against my beliefs and principles."

According to the lawsuit:

"The forcible injection of medication into a nonconsenting person's body represents a substantial interference with that person's liberty. A person's interest in freedom from unwanted medical treatment is fundamental. By imposing mandatory vaccination upon the employees of the executive branch, including Plaintiffs, Defendants have deprived them of liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Constitution."

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