City to hear appeal of fired Dallas firefighter cleared of child abuse charge

Just before he was fired, Dallas firefighter Lewis Zak said if he hurt his infant son, he didn’t do so intentionally.

“The charges that have been brought upon me are devastating, and to think that I would recklessly harm my child is absurd,” Zak, 37, said in an internal affairs statement.

A grand jury took Zak’s side last month and cleared him of the injury to a child charge.

Now, Zak, the son of retired Dallas Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief Mike Zak, and his attorney will try to persuade Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell on Thursday to give him his job back. Zak believes he was seen as guilty until proven innocent.

Chief Louie Bright III fired Zak, a six-year veteran of the department, in July after Dallas Fire-Rescue investigators sustained two allegations of “unprofessional conduct.”

“The investigation was shoddy,” said Chris Livington, Zak’s attorney.

Lt. Joel Lavender, a Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman, declined comment. He said the department does not discuss personnel issues.

Campbell can take several days to consider Zak’s case, and Zak can appeal Campbell’s decision.

At the time he was fired, Zak was facing an injury to a child charge in Denton County. The Carrollton Police Department arrested him April 29, 10 days after workers at the boy’s daycare took him to Children’s Medical Center Plano with bruises. Zak was placed on administrative leave three days after the arrest.

The boy’s mother told the day care workers the bruises came from Zak giving him a nebulizer treatment. The boy had bronchitis. Zak said the boy resisted having the mask placed on his face.

Zak said that explanation made some sense, but the boy also had broken ribs and a broken tibia. Zak said he didn’t know how that happened.

Zak said his wife was the child’s primary caregiver. Both he and his wife said she was much better at giving the treatment than he was.

The couple was going through a marital dispute when he was arrested. She said in the internal affairs investigation that they were discussing the future of their marriage the day that he was arrested. Zak and his wife are now separated after a year-and-a-half of marriage.

Zak’s wife did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Zak said another man came forward after the firing who had access to the child as well. Zak faulted Carrollton police for not following up with the man.

In the internal affairs investigation, Zak’s family members vouched for his integrity and abilities as a father.

Zak said he still isn’t completely sure how the boy was hurt.

A doctor said in the Dallas Fire-Rescue investigation that the broken bones amounted to a “diagnosis of non-accidental trauma.” But Livingston said he now has a statement from a doctor that the injuries were consistent with a child resisting a nebulizer mask.

Zak, who was a paramedic-firefighter, earned $23.65 an hour. He said he has been unemployed since and has a difficult time getting a job since his stated reason for leaving the fire department is termination. He said he initially had wanted to be a cop but followed in his father’s footsteps because he wanted to be a public servant.

He said Child Protective Services has still limited the time he can spend with his son, who is in the custody of relatives. He said his wife is given much more time with the boy.

Zak, who said he has had support from some of his fellow firefighters, said he doesn’t know how the appeal will play out.

“I’m not really sure exactly how well it’s going to go,” he said. “I’m hearing positive and I’m hearing negative.”

Livingston and his client also faulted fire officials for not waiting to fire a public servant until the grand jury decided whether the charges should go forward.

“There has been, yet again, a rush to judgment by the department,” Livingston said. “Instead of sitting down and analyzing something, they jump to conclusions. And our citizens and our employees expect more than that.”

Livingston said the reaction is “not a good way to run a business or a city.”