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Police-Fire Wars: Another Firefighter Arrested In The Line Of Duty – Leadville

The latest skirmish in the ongoing police-fire wars occurred in Leadville, Colorado on March 27, 2010, where Fire Captain Daniel Dailey was arrested and charged with "obstruction of a governmental operation".

Captain Dailey of the City of Leadville Fire Department and two firefighters responded on an EMS run to the Lake County Sheriff's Office. When they arrived, county sheriffs refused to allow the crew  to access to the patient, claiming they only called for an ambulance. According to the sheriff's office the deputies on duty were concerned that additional personnel might further upset the patient, a victim of domestic violence who had sustained neck injuries. "The deputy (Deputy Steve James)…  was of the opinion that there were enough personnel on the scene and that the addition of the three firemen would serve no purpose other than to further upset the victim and her children." The fire crew was told "they were not needed."

Captain Dailey, an EMT, refused to leave the scene without seeing the patient. There appears to be some factual questions about who arrived first, the ambulance or the firefighters, and whether the firefighters self-dispatched themselves. Part of the problem appears to have stemmed from the fact that the sheriff's office only requested the ambulance to respond, while protocols call for both fire and the ambulance to respond.

Once the captain was arrested, the two firefighters were threatened with arrest if they did not leave. They left, but minutes later were called back to assist the ambulance crew. Meanwhile, the captain remained incarcerated for about 75 minutes before being released to City of Leadville Police Chief Mike Leake.

Underlying the confrontation and arrest,  are some background details that help to put what occurred into perspective. Apparently, there has been an ongoing power struggle between the county and local government over a reorganization of fire and emergency medical services with the county sheriff wanting to establish public safety officers, and the local jurisdictions opposing such a move. There are also allegations that county dispatchers have delayed fire dispatches to allow sheriff's deputies time to arrive on scene first. Both allegations are denied by the County Sheriff.

Leadville Mayor Bud Elliott blasted the Lake County Sheriff's Office calling Dailey's arrest "a real abuse of police powers and an abuse of dispatch protocols that are being used as a political tool." Standing behind his firefighters, Elliott ordered Leadville police to accompany firefighters on runs to ensure they are not interfered with by county sheriffs.

Here's a link to the story. Here's one with a pretty good video coverge.

Not to be missed in this entire episode in the issue of patient abandonment, and duty to render assistance. Can a police officer extinguish the duty to render assistance that a firefighter, EMT or paramedic would otherwise have? What do you think?

Comments - Add Yours

  • John K. Murphy

    Whoa Nellie – what the heck is happening between fire and police? OK, I get the badge heavy thing with the police. They are in charge and in order to enforce their in-chargeness, if you don’t do what they say, they arrest you. Aren’t we all on the same side here?
    From a firefighters perspective this is a clear abuse of power. If what you read in the press (and sometimes I do) it is apparent that there is no working relationship between the police and fire department. In most communities there is a level of tension between the public services but to arrest a firefighter in the commission of their jobs smacks of police power gone wrong.
    There are some other factors here, not mentioned in the press articles.
    • Yes, there is an apparent pissing contest between the police and fire although each side denies that is a problem.
    • Yes, 911 calls are usually routed through police dispatch answering centers before getting routed to EMS/Fire – do the police cherry pick these calls as alleged by Leadville’s mayor?
    • Yes there is an abuse of power in this event.
    • Yes, the patient of the domestic violence (DV) situation ULTIMATELY received care but at what cost to her.
    • Yes, domestic violence is a police matter and a lot of police get caught in the “cross fire” of DV situations and get killed or injured.
    • Yes, DV is a volatile situation and it is incumbent that police and EMS or Fire/EMS gets their act together or there will be more injuries, arrests and embarrassment to both organizations.
    What of the medical control issue? Who is in charge of the “Patient”? Obviously it would be the EMS providers. Who makes that determination? Well in these situations, it would seem like the police would manage the DV, stabilize the call and then EMS will take care of any patients. According to the article EMS was there first then police. Remember, firefighters do not carry weapons or have the power of arrest. Sometimes it is better to wait for support then go into these situations.
    The bigger question is the right of arrest of a public safety officer. This is the confusing part to me as the firefighter is charge with “obstruction of a governmental operation’ – is this a made up charge? Did the land of Willy Wonka pull this out of thin air? Is the altitude in Leadville making everyone crazy or is the lead in the water affecting reasonableness and good sense? Is mad cow disease rampant among city officials?
    As far as I know, in Colorado police and fire part of the GOVERNMENT.
    Here’s a little legal tidbit in Colorado:
    Under 18-8-102. Obstructing government operations.
    (1) A person commits obstructing government operations if he intentionally obstructs, impairs, or hinders the performance of a governmental function by a public servant, by using or threatening to use violence, force, or physical interference or obstacle.
    (2) It shall be an affirmative defense that:
    (a) The obstruction, impairment, or hindrance was of unlawful action by a public servant; or
    (b) The obstruction, impairment, or hindrance was of the making of an arrest; or
    (c) The obstruction, impairment, or hindrance of a governmental function was by lawful activities in connection with a labor dispute with the government.
    (3) Obstructing government operations is a class 3 misdemeanor.
    OK so that’s the law of the land. However isn’t it problematic when one Government Official is arresting another Government Official on the same incident?
    So the real question is, “Can a police officer extinguish the duty to render assistance?” Obviously in this situation they can and did. Is this the reality of our profession? It will take a court of law to define this case and to separate the duties of the police and fire departments. In the meantime, a community is divided and the public services are hunkered down into their respective camps. This is not good for the community
    Just one note on Public Safety Officers. There is only a few working models in this country that has successfully implemented and managed the Public Safety Officer concept. It’s a pipe dream to think that police and fire duties can be combined with all of the training required for each discipline – one of the disciplines suffers. If you talk to Psychologists, Police and Firefighters are on the opposite psychological spectrum. So if that is the strategy of this community, I urge the community leaders to rebuke the actions of this police officer, and to think long and hard of the long term impact of starting a Public Safety Officer department. Most crash and burn in the long run, training is expensive, equipment is expensive and it involves a lot more municipal service that just the police and fire. It’s a community effort.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a62b3877970c Curt Varone

    Thanks John – for that in depth post. Lots of stuff to think about.
    Strictly from a negligence perspective – do you think that a police officer can extinguish a firefighter’s legal duty to render aid? What I mean is – an on-duty firefighter, EMT, or paramedic has a duty to render aid when dispatched. The firefighter can’t simply decide not to take the run – or at some point terminate the run before reaching the patient – without some potential consequences should harm come to the patient.
    Can a police officer – under threat of arresting the firefighter – extinguish that duty? (Understanding – that the police officer incurs potential liability in the process – but that is not my concern. I am more concerned about the firefighter’s liability for what could be…. abandonment, or at least a breach of the duty to render assistance)

  • John K. Murphy

    Curt,
    Your question is an interesting one as to whom (or who) is the plaintiff in this situation. Clearly, if the firefighter brought civil charges against the police officer then the burden of proof rests with the firefighter. Can the firefighter sue for a violation of his civil rights in federal court related to an illegal restraint and violation of his personal rights of freedom? In this situation can the term false arrest be used in the tort of false imprisonment? A false arrest must be perpetrated by one who asserts that he or she is acting pursuant to legal authority, whereas a false imprisonment is any unlawful confinement. For example, if a sheriff arrests a person without any probable cause or reasonable basis, the sheriff has committed the torts of false arrest and false imprisonment. The sheriff has acted under the assumption of legal authority to deprive a person unlawfully of his or her liberty of movement. An action can be instituted for the damages ensuing from false arrest, such as loss of salary while imprisoned, or injury to reputation that results in a pecuniary loss to the victim. Ill will and malice are not elements of the tort, but if these factors are proven, in some states punitive damages can be awarded in addition to compensatory damages or nominal damages.
    Also, can the police officer criminally charged by the prosecutor for unlawful restraint?
    If the plaintiff is the victim of the DV whose injuries were possibly made worse by the conduct of the police officer, then again there is the burden of proof on the victim’s part to establish negligence on the part of the police officer for interrupting and interfering with the medial care provided by the firefighter.
    Negligence, a legal concept in the common law legal systems, mostly applied in tort cases to achieve money compensation (damages) for physical and mental injuries (not accidents). Negligence is not the same as “carelessness”, because someone might be exercising as much care as they are capable of, yet still fall below the level of competence expected of them. Through civil litigation, if an injured person proves that another person acted negligently to cause his injury, he can recover damages to compensate for his harm. Proving a case for negligence can potentially entitle the injured plaintiff to compensation for harm to their body, property, mental well-being, financial status, or intimate relationships
    There is an obligation and duty on the part of the firefighter/EMT to complete their medical duties to the patient who calls 911 for assistance. If there is restraining or extinguishment by an intervening force (police officer) through an arrest of the EMT it would see reasonable that there is a breach in those duties committed by the EMT – only due to the actions of the police officer. It would be similar to a situation where the responding apparatus is involved in a MVA, does not reach the medical incident and the patient dies. Is there an obligation on the fire department in this situation?
    Here, it appears that the patient was treated and transported by the ambulance services with the assistance from the firefighters. The bigger question is how has the action by the police officer harmed the patient; was there a breach of the firefighters duty; what are the legal duties of the firefighters and police in medical aid responses (coupled with ongoing criminal activity which was the genesis of the call in the first place) and what are the legal duties of the police officer to “do no harm.”
    So the question remains unanswered – this is going to be an interesting one to watch as it appears in the several prior notable incidents across the United States, there has been no reportable litigation and the two parties have resolved their issues outside of the courtroom.
    The greater problem is the fact that police officers are arresting firefighter/EMT’s in increasing numbers and how do we fix that problem

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a62b3877970c Curt Varone

    Thanks John. Very well analyzed!
    Of the points you make – my concern is squarely on the legal obligations of the firefighter, EMT, paramedic dispatched to an emergency scene who is confronted with a police officer who tells him/her “Don’t touch the victim or I will arrest you”…. or simply “Don’t touch the patient!”
    What advice can we offer to our brother and sister firefighters who may be confronted with that scenario? While on the one hand the threat of arrest may be enough to justify obeying the officer’s order (however stupid and unlawful it may be)- I am not convinced that one’s duty to render aid is extinguished…. Think back to the EMTs in New York city a few months ago who left a pregant woman in a coffee shop. Take that highly emotional and sensationalized fact pattern, throw in a cop with an attitude – and I can envision a scenario where not only the cop will be in deep water – so will the firefighters, EMTs, or paramedics.

  • John K. Murphy

    Curt
    If faced with a “do not touch” order from the police I would do what they say (in most circumstances) DOCUMENT the incident; call their (fire/EMS) dispatch center, let them know over the radio that the police have ordered the fire department to “stand down” or issued a “don’t touch” order for secondary documentation and call for their supervisor. It is important that we maintain a professional relationship towards the police and “do no harm” to the patient.
    There is an ongoing case in Portland Oregon where the police beat to death a street person with a mental illness. James Chasse, 42, a Portland man with schizophrenia, died in 2006 after police tackled him, Tasered him, handcuffed him and drove him to jail (via EMS) instead of the hospital; although he had internal injuries, 26 broken bones, and a punctured lung. He ultimately died.
    The Portland Police and the police officer in question have been sued in federal court for the violation of the individuals. The case is James Chasse, Jr., et al v. Christopher Humphreys, et al. Case number 09-35615.
    There are numerous filings in the attached web site related to this case (http://www.mentalhealthportland.org/?tag=chasse-files).
    The medical team did not intervene in this medical event as Mr. Chase was handcuffed lying on the ground. Were EMS and Fire directed as to the administration of patient care? EMS was ordered to take Mr. Chase to jail but apparently he was unresponsive and died during transportation between the jail and the hospital. All responding parties will eventually be sued in this case.
    This is not where we need to be – our responsibility is to our safety first and then to the patient. Having the police intervene in that process by arresting the responders is irresponsible on their part and failure of communication between the public safety agencies.

  • chris paramedic

    here is thought rather than argue with a cop just leave and document the incident because the cop has the gun in my mind that makes him in charge not the firefighter that the cop will get busted not fire and ems

  • Zach

    “a real abuse of police powers and an abuse of dispatch protocols that are being used as a political tool.” I feel this quote describing actions of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office is quite on point. They seemed to have handled the situation in true LCS style, no suprises here….

  • lungs

    Not that the cop was doing the right thing but there is no “duty to act” if they were not requested (dispatched) there. Sounds like leadville FFs are a little bored….

    • http://firelawblog.com Curt Varone

      Lungs… I could almost agree with you if they were clearly not dispatched – but remember our friends at the Au Bon Pain in New York City in December, 2009…. were they asked, weren’t they asked… did they need to be asked, should they have known… In hind sight when the patient lives – its no big deal. Dead bodies change the equation and you cannot possibly know the outcome before it happens. Here’s the link to the FDNY case: http://firelawblog.com/2010/10/fdny-emt-charged-in-death-of-pregnant-woman-for-failure-to-act/

  • Paul Schewene

    You kidding? I’ve had this happen before… where police interfered with patient care.

    I was off-duty… and found a patient down. Knowing I was limited in what I could do alone, I used my head and called EMS.

    Police arrived on the scene first, and ORDERED me to stop care. I immediately presented my EMT certificate and drivers’ license to the officer, and informed him the patient required bleeding control until the fire department ambulance could arrive and take over care.

    He then proceeded to threaten me with arrest if I continued care.

    I had to make a very tough decision… continue care…(once an EMT commences care they’re not to stop until properly relieved by someone with MORE training… that’s the law.) OR… proceed until arrest… very likely provoking a confrontation with an armed individual, whose actions to arrest could’ve placed the patient in danger of further injury, as well as increasing my chances of injury from ZERO, to 50% or greater.

    Add to that… what goes with a confrontation with a law enforcement officer… disarming a cop is a felony in this state… legally I had no leg to stand on for going to war with this guy.

    I chose to stand down (and get the cop’s name and badge number and write down ‘everything’ to cover my butt. He had used his badge and gun to interfere with an EMT lawfully performing his responsibilities… and I am not compelled to endanger my life in the process of patient care unless I have the equipment and support necessary to meet that danger with a safety margin.)

    Police officers like him… are a true danger to society… especially when you consider that they could very well cause a layman responder to stop providing life saving care at a critical moment, to the detriment of a patient in need.

    Their powers are NOT restrained well enough at ALL… I don’t think there’s a single cop out there, who has a place on an emergency scene. Most of them don’t even know what ICS means… nor do they know the laws applicable to emergency care. They do not understand the concept of emergency mitigation.

    The only thing a lot of them understand is… “I have the badge and gun… I’m in charge… and nobody can touch me in this ‘power’.”

    That makes them pretty piss-poor partners in emergency response, to say the least.

    To be fair… there are a lot of cops out there who are the salt of the earth in every sense… They may not understand what firefighters and EMTs do… or ICS… but they understand that some people know more than they do about some things… and will be happy to take advantage of that knowledge for the sake of resolving the incident in the best way for EVERYONE concerned.

    But the ones who are simply put… idiots…

    They’re a bigger danger to the citizens than any 500 criminals you could turn loose from prison on any given day.

    • http://firelawblog.com Curt Varone

      Thanks Paul

      You did the right thing. My brother and I will be talking about this issue at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore in July. He’s a cop (Detective Lt.) but he used to be a firefighter and he gets it.

      Part of the problem is we come on scene with 25-30 years of experience and we are dealing with a cop with 2-3 years on – who is brainwashed to think he is in charge… and he knows his buddies in blue have his back if he decides to start anything. We are not in a good position. We need his supervisor to come on the scene before things escalate, because once they escalate, the supervisor will inevitably take the officers side (no different than we would if someone was giving one of our guys some attitude).

      Great discussion.