County Settles False Arrest Suit By Firefighters

Did you ever notice how certain types of emergencies tend to come in bunches? It might be an elevator emergency, a roll over, or perhaps a fire… the next thing you know you have 2 or 3 in a row. The same thing happens here at Fire Law. We go months without a certain type of case, and then… bam… Yesterday we covered a scuffle between police and firefighters in Chicago in 2011 that resulted in a $1.6 million settlement in favor of a police officer.

Today out of South Carolina comes word that a scuffle between firefighters and county sheriffs at a vehicle accident scene in 2014 has resulted in a monetary settlement in favor of the firefighters.

The incident occurred in Chester County on February 14, 2014 at the scene of a jackknifed tractor-trailer. Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood claims West Chester Volunteer Fire Department Chief Andy Martin and his brother, Tommy Martin, yelled obscenities and assaulted him and his officers following a dispute over traffic control at the accident scene. According to Chief Martin, he was the incident commander and the sheriff refused to close the road which posed a risk to responders trying to right the truck.

Chief Martin was charged with third degree assault and battery and disorderly conduct while his brother was charged with two counts of third degree assault and battery. The charges were later dismissed following an independent investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED).

The Martin brothers sued accusing the sheriff and his deputies of false arrest and malicious prosecution. According to Chester County Attorney Joanie Winters, the case has been settled on confidential terms. The defendants did not admit to any wrongdoing and according to attorney Jim Davis, who represented the sheriff and his deputies, was done to avoid costing the taxpayers more by going to trial.

According to Winters, the costs of the settlement costs will be borne by the county’s insurance company.

More on the story.

Here is video from the scene:

 

 

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.
  • mr618

    Maybe those of us in the fire service should start pressuring our elected officials at the state level to determine AND CODIFY who is in charge at traffic scenes, and under what circumstances. For instance, during response/rescue/recovery/suppression efforts, the FD is in command. Once medical and fire operations have ceased, the cops take over.

    Too many cops believe they are ALWAYS in command (see “The Hats of Incident Command” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3BsAJqAFro), while many firefighters believe THEY are in command at all times (possibly simply because we have the most expensive toys).
    Since we apparently can’t play well in the sandbox by ourselves, we need an independent body — the legislature — to set the rules for us.

    • CurtVarone

      You know – I have tried to get some buy in from the past 3 US Fire Administrators to at least consider this as an issue – but they each told me they believe it is an isolated problem between a couple of hot heads on both sides. My point is how many times does this need to happen before the adults have to step in!!!

      • mr618

        I’m surprised the Congressional Fire Caucus hasn’t weighed in on the issue.

        Maybe we also need to get the media involved: Hal Bruno, of course, was intimately involved with the fire service, and NBC’s Brian Williams was a firefighter. I’m sure there are other media members with fire service backgrounds… maybe if we could rope them in, with their reach, we could get some action (“Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.,” as William H. Greener allegedly said).

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