No Discipline for Miami Dade Captain in Helicopter LZ Yelling Match

The Miami-Dade fire captain who attempted to stop a photographer from filming at a med flight helicopter landing will not face disciplinary action for his behavior.

Captain Greg Smart yelled at and later pushed photographer/blogger Taylor Hardy in an attempt to get him to stop filming the transfer of a patient from an ambulance to a helicopter. The March 21, 2013 altercation was recorded by Hardy and became somewhat of an Internet sensation when posted on YouTube.

Hardy filed a complaint with MDFR over Captain Smart’s behavior and the matter was investigated. The investigation concluded that disciplinary charges were “not sustained”.

Today, CBSLocal.com in Miami was unusually critical of the investigation characterizing it as a “cover up”.  The news outlet cited the fact that the investigation neglected to even consider Captain Smart’s requesting police assistance “Code 3” and mischaracterizing Hardy’s behavior as “combative”, something that is clearly refuted by the video. They also interviewed Hardy, who said he was never informed that his complaint had been dismissed, nor had he received an apology.

The investigation did conclude that Captain Smart acted unprofessionally, but found that  “He was under a great deal of stress on this call and acted in an aggressive nature when challenged by the bystander. … Capt Smart agrees that he overreacted and caused embarrassment not only to himself but to the department. I feel that in the future he will have a different perspective as to how we need to act regardless of the severity of the call.”

More on the story.

Incidentally, CBSLocal.com’s news outlet’s sympathies are understandable given the obvious First Amendment issues that are such a huge concern to those in the media.  From a Fire Law perspective, I am concerned that by not taking a clearer stand on what (IMHO) was a pretty obvious First Amendment violation MDFR may in fact provoke a totally unnecessary federal lawsuit.

The reality is many in the media feel so passionately about the First Amendment that they are highly motivated to teach governmental actors (such fire departments and firefighters) a lesson… a very expensive lesson that in this case seems to have been missed by MDFR.

Often after a possible liability causing event attorneys take a conservative approach: admit nothing, deny everything and force the bastards to prove their case. Many enlightened leaders are realizing that a simple and sincere apology is often a better solution… one that in the long run can even be cheaper!!!! This case would seen to be a prime candidate for such an approach.

The ball is now in Taylor Hardy’s court. I’d be surprised if First Amendment groups do not rally around Hardy and help bankroll his cause.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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