Firefighters Fuming Over Ruling in Paramedic Attack

Firefighter paramedics Margaret Heckman and Michelle Martinez were attacked by a man in May 2011

The Chicago Firefighters Union is expressing outrage that a man convicted of attacking two fire paramedics walked out of court this week with a virtual slap on the wrist.

Jonathan Soto of Bartlett was charged with four counts of aggravated battery for the 2011 incident, but a Cook County judge convicted him on only a lesser misdemeanor charge.

"My complaint is with the system that allows this to happen," said union president Tom Ryan. "We are going to make it our mission to make sure that if this happens again, that we are going to do anything in our power to make sure they are punished to fullest extent of the law."

The incident in question occurred May 21, 2011, when paramedics Margaret Heckman and Michelle Martinez were called to the 300 block of west Institute Place, where a man was reportedly lying unresponsive on the sidewalk.

Martinez recalled that she and her colleague assisted the man, who appeared to be intoxicated, to their ambulance and prepared to take him to the hospital.

"I heard scuffling in the back, and I said, 'Margaret are you OK?'" Martinez said. "She said, 'No, he just bit me.'"

Martinez said she jumped in the back to assist, but by then, Soto was becoming combative.

"We could not contain him. He was too busy biting her, biting me," she said. "He was kicking us. He was biting us. He kicked her in the stomach."

"I really felt like he could have killed us with one punch," Heckman recalled.

Martinez said at one point, she struggled to free herself when Soto grabbed her around the neck.

"He was choking me," she said. "He had me pinned in the back of the ambulance on our bench seat, choking me. ...  I couldn’t free his hands from me, so I was able to get my knees in between us and kick him off of me."

At that point, Martinez said Soto fled the ambulance, and she called a 10-1, the radio call for an officer in trouble. That brought a tremendous police response. Authorities eventually caught up with Soto a few blocks away, and he was charged with aggravated battery, a class 3 felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

In a brief bench trial this week, Judge James Linn listened to testimony but found Soto guilty of only a lesser reckless conduct charge. He sentenced him to a year of supervision, and 20 days of community service.

"You know, we are uniformed professionals who are protected by a law," Heckman said. "And I don’t think we were protected by this law at all."

Ryan said similar incidents seem to be happening more frequently, and he said he fully intends to pack the galleries with his member if another case comes to trial.

"Then we show up en masse, and we show up in force," he said. "And we make sure to make them know that we’re watching, and we’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior."

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