A volunteer firefighter from Wisconsin who was pulled over and arrested last June while responding to an alarm with lights and siren, has filed a $50,000 excessive force claim against the police department.
Firefighter Dan Dean, 37, a member of Brooklyn Fire & EMS, was responding to an alarm in his personal vehicle on June 4, 2012. Village of Oregon police officer Ted Gilbertson, who was on the lookout for a motorist impersonating a police officer, observed Dean and gave chase. Both Dean and Gilbertson were using lights and sirens.
When Dean arrived at the fire station parking lot, Officer Gilbertson approached Dean treating the situation as a high-risk traffic stop barking orders “Get back in the car” and “Get your hands out the door, right now, both of them” while pointing his weapon at Dean. Dean tried to explain he was a Brooklyn firefighter. The incident was captured on dashboard camera of Officer Gilbertson’s cruiser.
Following the chase Dean was cited for failure to yield to an emergency vehicle, a charge that Dean is contesting. The police department’s internal investigation of the incident found no evidence of wrongdoing by Officer Gilbertson.
Dean’s complaint alleges that he mistook the siren and lights behind him for another emergency responder responding to the same fire call. He claims that on reaching the fire station Officer Gilbertson should have noticed that the fire station’s bay door was open, that other firefighters were arriving, and realized he was responding to an emergency call.
The village has 120 days to respond to the complaint before Dean can file a lawsuit. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Dean says that the $50,000 is being asked in order to get the police department to take the situation more seriously. He said he would forego any damages if the police department simply apologized and agreed to provide additional training to its officers.
Now for my commentary:
As for the charges against Firefighter Dean, how can someone who is lawfully responding to an emergency with lights and siren be cited for failure to yield to another emergency vehicle. The charge is absurd and IMHO shows bad faith on the part of the arresting officer. The fact that the charge has not been dropped speaks even further of bad faith on the part of the police department’s leadership.
What would have happened if Officer Gilbertson had tried to pull over an undercover police vehicle that was lawfully responding to an emergency? Would the vehicle have stopped immediately? Would he have cited the driver if the driver continued on to the emergency under the reasonable assumption that Officer Gilbertson was responding to the same emergency? What if it had been one of his own supervisors? It is absurd to think Officer Gilbertson would have issued such a citation, so why is he allowed to do it here?
Rather than address these issues, the Oregon Police Department has chosen to focus on questions like was Dean driving too fast and should he have been responding lights and siren for an “odor of smoke” call that turned out to be a small fire in a refrigerator.
At the end of the day in cases like this, I cannot help but wonder why the arresting officer is not cited for interfering with a firefighter in the performance of his duties. These kinds of citations are absolutely necessary if we are to end the Police Fire War.
Incidentally, Wisconsin Statutes Ch. 941.12 (1) makes interfering with “the lawful efforts of fire fighters to extinguish a fire” a Class 1 felony. One would think arresting a firefighter responding to an alarm at gun point constitutes interference.