UTAH State law apparently – NEGATES – the FOURTH AMENDMENT ?

mntmolejudicialUnwarranted drug database search prompts new Utah law, lawsuits


SALT LAKE CITY — A United Fire Authority assistant chief says an unwarranted police search of the state’s prescription drug database that led to criminal charges against him turned his life upside down.

And based largely on what happened to Marlon Jones, state lawmakers earlier this year passed a bill that makes it more difficult for law enforcement to rifle through Utahns’ electronic medicine cabinets.

Jones says in a federal lawsuit filed this week that Cottonwood Heights police violated his privacy when a detective obtained his medical history through the database without probable cause or a search warrant. State prosecutors filed felony prescription fraud charges against Jones but then dropped them 18 months later.

“I had no idea that this could even happen to anybody,” Jones told a legislative committee in February.

Utah allows law enforcement unregulated access of any person’s private medical history in the database without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, according to the complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court.

“In reality, there is zero oversight of how the database is being used by law enforcement. As a result, law enforcement is able to circumvent a person’s privacy rights on a whim by searching for that person on the database,” the lawsuit says.

“It’s the invasion into our private affairs that we’re concerned about and that’s why this is an important lawsuit,” said Jones’ attorney, Tyler Ayres.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, called what happened to Jones wrong and said his experience prompted the legislation.

“We live in the United States of America. We have protections. We have the right to privacy,” he said.

His bill, SB119, requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant to which a specific name is attached before searching the prescription drug database. The new law takes effect May 12.

Weiler said then-Gov. Mike Leavitt warned in 1995 when the Legislature created the prescription drug database that there was a huge potential for abuse and lawmakers would have to come back and put a lid on it.

“And that’s exactly what’s happened,” Weiler said.

Jones’ ordeal began after Unified Fire Authority reported to police that vials of morphine, fentanyl and midazolam were taken from ambulances in southeast Salt Lake Valley.

Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robbie Russo gave detective James Woods the names of 480 firefighters, including Jones’ name, to investigate regarding the missing medication. Russo got the list from Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore, a Unified Fire Authority board member, according to the lawsuit.

Woods determined through the database that Jones was dependent on opiates and seeing three different doctors. The detective then interviewed the doctors and pharmacists about Jones’ medical conditions and treatment.

The detective reported his findings to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which charged Jones with 14 counts of obtaining a prescription under false pretenses, a third-degree felony.

Jones, 50, was being treated for a back injury suffered in an accident and two knee replacements, Ayres said. His doctors were aware of each other and didn’t think he was abusing prescription drugs, according the lawsuit.

Ayres said Jones never sought medication that was not prescribed to him nor has he abused it any way.

Prosecutors also filed felony prescription fraud charges against paramedic Ryan Pyle as a result of the database search. Those charges were later dropped. Pyle, too, has a federal lawsuit pending against Cottonwood Heights.

No one was charged with stealing narcotics from the ambulances after the investigation.

In a court response to Pyle’s lawsuit, the city denied violating his rights and asked a judge to dismiss the case.

Cottonwood Heights City Manager John Park said Thursday the city has not seen Jones’ lawsuit and had no comment.

Police arrested Jones at his home in July 2013, placing him in handcuffs and putting him in a marked patrol car in front of his family and friends. United Fire Authority put Jones, a 26-year veteran, on paid leave and suspended his access to fire stations.

“For 18 months, a man with an otherwise spotless record was held under a magnifying glass and basically tortured like an ant,” Ayres said.

He said Jones, who sometimes acted as public spokesman for Unified Fire Authority, felt embarrassed and discouraged. He couldn’t fully participate in his son’s induction ceremony into the fire service.

“There were some tears shed quite frequently. That’s a lot of pressure, that’s a lot of pressure for someone to deal with,” Ayres said. “It becomes very disheartening when it’s somebody who’s tried to do nothing but serve his community for his whole life.”

A month before Jones’ trial was to start in 3rd District Court in November 2014, prosecutors dismissed the charges against him.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said at the time that the evidence presented to his office when the case first came under investigation had changed.

“The evidence that was certainly available at that time gave us a good basis to believe there was a violation,” he said. “Subsequently, what we’ve discovered is that some of the evidence from some of the medical folks may not be as strong, and may actually be a basis for a defense.”

Jones, who is in Africa this week training firefighters and first responders, is back on the job as an assistant fire chief.

He told the legislative committee that the painful experience put him and his family through hell. He said his father delayed retirement so he could pay Jones’ mortgage and attorney fees.

“Thought I was healed up a little bit more,” he told the committee through tears. “Still working on it.”

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

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