California Firefighter Files Claim Over Highway Arrest

A California firefighter who was arrested at the scene of a motor vehicle accident last month because he did not move his engine when requested by California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) has filed an administrative claim with the state claims board alleging wrongful arrest. The claim is a required precursor to filing a lawsuit.

Firefighter Jacob Gregoire of the Chula Vista Fire Department was arrested on February 4, 2014 at the scene of a roll over on Interstate 805. Gregoire was retrieving a gurney when he was instructed by a CHiPs officer, Sergio Flores, to move his engine or be arrested. He informed Officer Flores that he would have to check with his captain at which point he was placed into custody, searched and handcuffed.

At the time the engine was in a blocking position for personnel attending to the patients. According to reports, the arrest did in fact interfere with the operations of personnel at the scene and delayed packaging of the patients. Supervisors from both the fire department and highway patrol resolved the issue on scene and Gregoire was released without being charged.

According to Gregoire, “I’m not looking for compensation, I’m looking for policy change” in terms of CHiPs agreeing not to interfere with firefighters at emergency scenes. His attorney, Dan Gilleon, alleges that besides committing a wrongful arrest, the CHiPs officer violated Gregoire’s Fourth Amendment rights in so far as the arrest constituted an unreasonable search and seizure.

I am certain if we asked Officer Flores about the situation, he would say what police officers before him have said under similar circumstances: “I arrested Gregoire because the law is the law and NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW. He was told to move and he refused to move. Just because someone is a firefighter, does not entitle them to special treatment”.

Incidentally, California Penal Code 148.2 states as follows:

Every person who willfully commits any of the following acts at the burning of a building or at any other time and place where any fireman or firemen or emergency rescue personnel are discharging or attempting to discharge an official duty, is guilty of a misdemeanor:

  1. Resists or interferes with the lawful efforts of any fireman or firemen or emergency rescue personnel in the discharge or attempt to discharge an official duty.
  2. Disobeys the lawful orders of any fireman or public officer.
  3. Engages in any disorderly conduct which delays or prevents a fire from being timely extinguished.
  4. Forbids or prevents others from assisting in extinguishing a fire or exhorts another person, as to whom he has no legal right or obligation to protect or control, from assisting in extinguishing a fire.

I would point out, California Penal Code 148.2 does not make an exception for members of the California Highway Patrol. “Every person”…. NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW!!!! Including members of the California Highway Patrol.

Why has Officer Flores not been charged with violating Penal Code 148.2(1)? He clearly interfered with a firefighter in the performance of his duties. Is the California Highway Patrol above the law?

A simple solution to the ongoing problem of police officers needlessly arresting firefighters at emergency scenes is to hold the officers accountable for their actions. No one is above the law.

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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