Firefighters, police get day in court - East Valley Tribune: News

Firefighters, police get day in court

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Posted: Tuesday, October 5, 2004 6:16 am | Updated: 4:57 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

They protect and they serve. They’ll duke it out with bad guys, then help you change a flat. They’ll knock down a four-alarm fire, then roll on a pet-rescue mission.

They’re police officers and firefighters. Underappreciated, underpaid, in danger every day, and deserving of at least the same civil rights the rest of us enjoy. And when they perceive those rights are violated, they’re as likely as the rest of us to howl.

Today, Craig W. Petersen is foremost among them: Not only a firefighter, but now a champion of civil liberties.

It stuck in Petersen’s craw when in 2001 Mesa dictated that firefighters would be subject to random drug tests. Why, he wondered, should he, a captain with a quartercentury of service, suddenly be suspect? He not only wondered, he sued.

Three years ago this month a Maricopa County Superior Court judge sided with Petersen, and blocked the drug tests.

The city appealed, and got them reinstated.

Then Petersen appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously in his favor.

Finally, the city appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on Monday the Supreme Court, without comment, turned the city away.

Now, if a city has probable cause to suspect drug use by an individual firefighter, or if a firefighter has an accident, a test can still be demanded. Fair enough. But firefighters as a group are immune from random tests.

Police officers are not.

Courts have ruled that police officers, because they’re armed and make instant lifeand-death decisions, do not have the right to refuse random drug tests.

They do have other rights, however. Former Chandler police officer Dan Lovelace believes his were violated during the city’s investigation into his fatal shooting two years ago of Dawn Rae Nelson at a Wa lgreens pharmacy drive-through.

Lovelace, who had been fired from the police force, was acquitted in July of second-degree murder.

Now he wants his job back and he’s putting the city through the contortions of a multiphase merit board hearing on his request. He’s also suing the city, the county and some city and county employees for a million bucks, asserting his rights were trampled in the Nelson investigation.

That double-barreled counteroffensive needlessly prolongs the agony.

Two wrongful-death cases involving L ovelace have already cost the city more than $4.7 million (the other case stemmed from a fatal high-speed chase). His acquittal notwithstanding, legitimate questions remain as to whether Nelson’s death was truly justified, and as to whether Lovelace could ever again effectively work as a Chandler policeman.

To protect and serve means different things at different times. At this time, it may mean for Dan Lovelace to just accept the hand he’s been dealt, and humbly move along.

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