Mesa may appeal to high court - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Mesa may appeal to high court

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Posted: Saturday, April 3, 2004 5:39 am | Updated: 5:51 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Mesa is considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue of whether cities can require random drug testing for firefighters. The City Council votes Monday on filing an appeal before the April 26 deadline.

Mesa randomly tests police officers, employees who have commercial driver’s licenses and gas pipeline workers.

In January 2001, fire Capt. Craig Petersen filed suit against the testing a few days before the policy was to take effect in the Mesa Fire Department.

Petersen won his case at a trial court in October 2001, but Mesa won a 2-1 decision in the Arizona Court of Appeals in February 2003.

The Arizona Supreme Court in January reversed the appeals court ruling, holding that random testing of firefighters violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

Petersen could not be reached for comment Friday.

City Attorney Debbie Spinner said it is critical that firefighters not be under the influence because they are often the first on scene at emergencies, give medical care to victims, drive vehicles through red lights and rescue people from fires.

"We think it’s a public safety issue," Spinner said.

There is no evidence of a drug problem in the department, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a problem in the future, Spinner said.

Ty Perkins, president of Mesa Firefighters Association Local 2260, said he is waiting to see how the council votes and prefers to stay neutral on the issue. However, the aim of any testing program should be getting the person off drugs, not firing them.

"We want to fix them, not throw them away," said Perkins, a Mesa firefighter and paramedic.

Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanaugh said there’s a reasonable chance the high court will hear the case because the circuit courts are split on the issue. He said he will vote to appeal.

"There’s a legitimate public interest for the city to conduct testing for the same reason we would do for police officers," Kavanaugh said.

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