Police Fire Wars in New Mexico

Today’s burning question: I responded to a motor vehicle roll-over accident. While attending to a patient I found drugs, cash and a drug pipe in his car. I collected the items and gave them to a police officer, who instead of thanking me responded by berating me in public for no reason. I was humiliated. In fact I think he defamed me and I want to know if I can sue him.

Answer: Perhaps you should just be thankful he did not charge you with tampering with evidence, and leave well enough alone.

When it comes to police-fire wars, I hate to have to side with those on the blue side of the red-blue divide in my family, but a case out of New Mexico would seem – at least on the surface – to support the police. However, there also seems to be more to this story… a whole lot more. YCMTSU more!!!! And not all of it supports the police.

Daniel Goldberg is a volunteer firefighter with the San Juan County Fire Department. He apparently has had at least two recent run-ins at emergency scenes with the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, drawing the particular ire of Sergeant Terry McCoy. Last October at the scene of a roll-over accident Goldberg briefly took possession of drugs and cash he found in the vehicle, and turn them over to a deputy on the scene prompting Sgt. McCoy to issue… how shall we say…  a stern rebuke.

In an earlier incident last year, Goldberg responded to the scene of domestic violence. When he asked the female victim to explain what happened, a sheriff’s deputy interrupted instructing him not to ask questions related to the criminal case. Goldberg claimed he had to ask questions in order to properly evaluate the patient’s injuries.

The two incidents prompted Sgt. McCoy to file complaints with the fire department against Goldberg. Goldberg responded in kind by filing a complaint with the sheriff’s office against Sgt. McCoy. He also upped the ante by filing a civil claim against the county seeking damages for defamation and filing untrue complaints.

As if the claims and counter-claims were not enough, the plot thickens: Goldberg’s internal affairs/professional standards allegation against Sgt. McCoy prompted an investigation that resulted in a rather strange outcome… as professional standards investigations go: the sheriff’s office internal affairs investigators sent a letter to the fire chief recommending that Goldberg be terminated.

San Juan County Sheriff’s Office Captain Brice Current, head of Internal Affairs for the sheriff’s office, stated in a letter to Fire Chief Doug Hatfield:

·      “Public safety and scene security are imperative while serving the public. Public trust is of vital importance to the sheriff.”

·      “If we can’t trust fire or (Emergency Medical Services) members then we cannot provide a high level of service”

·      “We have never had conflict among fire and deputies before and would like to avoid it in the future.”

·      “To prevent any future conflicts and liability in reference to public trust issues, we recommend that [Goldberg] be removed”

Captain Current was also quoted as saying “The fact that he tampered with the evidence … breaks our chain of custody and hinders our investigation and our ability to prove possession and ownership over those substances. … You can see why a sergeant wouldn’t want him touching evidence and would have a little bit of mistrust there.”

Chief Hatfield has thus far stood behind Goldberg, and refused the sheriff’s office requests to terminate Goldberg.

However, it would also appear that there is a whole lot more going on in San Juan County. For starters, Goldberg is a bail bondsman… you know, the guys who help criminals make bail… which probably does not endear him to any members of law enforcement… even on a good day.

And then there is this… and I quote so as not to get it wrong:

“Goldberg was twice arrested on suspicion of felonies in San Juan County. In 2004, he and his son were charged with kidnapping, rape and other charges. He was acquitted after a jury trial. He also has been arrested on fraud charges but the case was dismissed.”

But that’s not even the biggest surprise. The biggest surprise is the fact that Goldberg claims the entire feud with Sgt. McCoy only happened after he announced he was running for San Juan County Sheriff on an anti-police corruption platform. And here is his campaign’s Facebook page!!!!!


More on the story.


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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