By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The state’s largest hospital system filed a lawsuit Wednesday against far-right activist and gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy, his campaign, the People’s Rights Network and his supporters.
The lawsuit, filed by St. Luke’s in Ada County, stems from an incident in March when the grandchild of Diego Rodriguez was taken to the hospital in Meridian by police. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare believed the child was in medical danger. When the child’s parents did not cooperate, DHW contacted law enforcement.
Rodriguez, also a defendant in the lawsuit, runs the Freedomman.org website and has been active in Bundy’s gubernatorial campaign.
Other defendants named include the Ammon Bundy for Governor political organization, Freedom Man Press LLC, and Freedom Man Political Action Network.
A copy of the 33-page complaint outlines how the 10-month-old child’s parents did not cooperate with authorities. Police transported the child to St. Luke’s in Meridian for care and later transported him to the Boise St. Luke’s hospital. The child has since been released to his parents’ custody.
The lawsuit claims the defendants said the hospital harmed the infant in “irreparable ways” and abused the child, which St. Luke’s disputes. The lawsuit claims Bundy, Rodriguez and the defendants exploited the events around the infant’s care.
The lawsuit goes on to claim the defendants worked together “to manufacture a false narrative of a state-sponsored child kidnapping and trafficking ring that include DHW, the police, the Idaho Judiciary, the infant’s (primary care provider), and the St. Luke’s parties.”
In a press release from St. Luke’s Health System, Roth said “It is important for us to stand up to the bullying, intimidation and disruption, and the self-serving and menacing actions of these individuals, for the protection of our employees and patients, and to ensure our ability to serve our community. St. Luke’s has not been the only target of these individuals and believes that no one should be subject to such abuse. Inaction would signal this type of behavior is acceptable in our community. It is not.”
St. Luke’s lawsuit goes on to allege “They told their followers to target the same individuals for doxing and harassment. Defendants mirrored false statements across the websites and social media they controlled.”
The plaintiffs also asked for a protection order to be put in place for St. Luke’s, its CEO Chris Roth, the doctor involved and other witnesses. They also asked for a preliminary injunction, demanding “false, defamatory accusations” of kidnapping, child abduction and child trafficking be taken down.
St. Luke’s indicates the defendants’ motives included generating interest in the Bundy campaign, raising the political profiles and personal brands of Bundy and Rodriguez, especially within the People’s Right’s Network and other political groups. Other motives implied in the lawsuit included driving web traffic to their websites and creating financial gain in the form of donations to Bundy’s campaign.
The lawsuit claims Rodriguez knew the child’s parents had failed to follow several steps needed to ensure the baby had medical care and failed to respond to those seeking information about the health of the infant.
It goes on to allege that Bundy went to St. Luke’s in Meridian “for the purpose of initiating a conflict with the police and potentially getting arrested. He knew that by orchestrating a protest and arrest at the hospital that he would win media attention, enhance his brand, and likely generate financial contributions for himself and the Bundy Campaign.”
The lawsuit claims hospital staff repeatedly warned Bundy and his followers to clear the ambulance bay. “Bundy heard and refused to heed the warnings on at least three occasions,” the claim states. Police arrested Bundy on March 12 for trespassing.
St. Luke’s disputes many of the claims made by defendants, including that doctors “kidnapped” children, falsified medical records, and that they “harmed and killed babies all the time.” The lawsuit calls the full list of statements from the defendants “patently untrue.”
Claims also revolve around the defendants’ presence at the hospital making patients and staff feel anxious and fearful.
Calls for donations
A St. Luke’s patient care coordinator reportedly tried to tell the child’s parents they would qualify for Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) under Medicaid when the baby’s mother expressed concern about paying for medical care, according to the complaint. When the employee tried to call the parents to offer assistance, the parents did not answer. St. Luke’s reported in the lawsuit that the hospital anticipates Medicaid will cover the infant’s medical bills based on the reported family income that a St. Luke’s patient financial advocate screened the family for.
“Despite knowing that the infant’s parents had not incurred significant liability for medical care received at (St. Luke’s), Rodriguez, assisted by other defendants, continued to solicit donations and received more than $110,000 based on misrepresentations that the St. Luke’s parties had engaged in wrongdoing and that St. Luke’s had created huge financial liability for Rodriguez’s family.”
St. Luke’s alleges that in a March 26 rally, Bundy and Rodriguez made defamatory statements about the doctor and St. Luke’s and used it as a fundraising event for the Bundy Campaign.
The lawsuit claims at the rally Rodriguez “bragged about shutting down St. Luke’s phone system such that St Luke’s ‘couldn’t even operate.’”
They also used what St. Luke’s called “defamatory speech” to incite people to join the People’s Rights Network and “take the fight against the St. Luke’s parties and other supposed kidnappers and child traffickers ‘all the way to the end.’”
The lawsuit’s claims include libel and slander as well as invasion of privacy against all defendants. Other claims include infliction of emotional distress, trespassing and violations of the Idaho Charitable Solicitation Act, among others.
St. Luke’s demands a jury trial or an award for damages in the amount of no less than $50,000.
The defendants in the case had not responded to the complaint, as of about 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Rodriguez responded to a request for comment from Idaho Reports, but said as of Wednesday he had not yet received the paperwork. “As soon as I receive the lawsuit and have had a chance to review it, I will be happy to talk to you,” he wrote via email.
Bundy is due in court on Monday for the trespassing charge he picked up outside of St. Luke’s in Meridian.