Police Fire Wars in Louisiana AGAIN

There’s been another incident involving a police officer arresting a firefighter over a line of duty action, this time in Winnfield, Louisiana because the officer did not like where a fire truck was parked at an incident scene.

Firefighter Jonathan Johnson was arrested Saturday at his fire station following a response to a minor motor vehicle accident. According to reports, a Winn Parish Sheriff’s Department deputy ordered Johnson to move his fire vehicle that was in a blocking position to protect personnel at the scene. Johnson refused citing safety concerns.

Dave Statter has more on this and here is a video.

My question in this case is whether the officer may have been trying to be cute by avoiding an arrest at an incident scene to avoid an obstructing a fireman charge? Recall the case from March 24, 2014 when a New Roads, Louisiana police officer arrested, handcuffed and detained a volunteer firefighter at an emergency medical incident over where the firefighter parked his truck.

Immediately thereafter, the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office launched a criminal investigation into the police officer for interfering with a firefighter in the performance of his duties. Here is the Louisiana law on obstructing a fireman, which is similar to laws on the books in most states:

Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:327

§327. Obstructing a fireman

A.(1) It shall be unlawful for any person intentionally to obstruct any fireman while in the performance of his official duties. Obstructing a fireman is hereby defined as intentionally hindering, delaying, hampering, interfering with, or impeding the progress of any regularly employed member of a fire department of any municipality, parish, or fire protection district of the state of Louisiana, or any volunteer fireman of the state of Louisiana while in the performance of his official duties; or cursing, reviling, or using any opprobrious language directed at any such fireman while in the performance of his official duties.

Under Louisiana law, the State Fire Marshal’s Office is charged with investigating and enforcing 14:327. I have to wonder whether the Winn Parish Sheriff’s Department deputy waited until after the incident to satisfy his urge to retaliate against Johnson – in order avoid the scrutiny of a state investigation for “obstructing a fireman” in the “performance of his official duties”.

No word yet as to whether the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s office will investigate despite the fact that the arrest did not occur at an incident scene. While the statutes in some states limit charges of obstructing or interfering with a firefighter to actions that occur at incident scenes, Louisiana’s 14:327 does not appear to. So yanking the firefighter from his truck at the fire station and arresting him (thus taking him away from his duties) could be a violation of 14:327!!! And then there is the question of whether the officer may have used “opprobrious language” in speaking to Johnson at the scene…

In the memorable words of Rodney King “why can’t we all just get along.”

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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