A San Francisco Superior Court judge has thrown out criminal charges against a former San Francisco firefighter who struck a motorcyclist while driving a fire truck allegedly under the influence of alcohol in 2013.
Judge Kay Tsenin threw out criminal charges against former firefighter Michael Quinn on Friday on grounds that police did not have probable cause to arrest him. A civil lawsuit against Quinn and the city are still pending.
Jack Frazier, the motorcyclist who was struck by the fire truck that Quinn was driving around 11:30 p.m. on June 29, 2013, in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, is represented by attorney Chuck Koro.
Koro, who specializes in cases of people who have been in motorcycle accidents, said the collection of evidence in the case was “bungled” in Quinn’s favor, but that this isn’t just about Quinn.
He said it’s important that any firefighter who responds to work while under the influence of alcohol and gets into a collision is held accountable for their actions.
Koro said there is nothing in place to prevent the evidence from being “bungled” again if a similar incident were to occur.
He said that when he learned the judge had thrown out the case Friday, he “was very disappointed and angry.”
According to Koro, this is not an isolated incident and the San Francisco Fire Department has a history of alcohol-related problems.
Koro said the city needs to do more to make sure none of their firefighters are responding to work while under the influence.
A 2004 civil grand jury investigation determined that there was indeed an alcohol problem at the city’s fire stations.
Over a decade since the grand jury findings were released, Koro said Monday, “This is apparently a pervasive problem that hasn’t been addressed.”
The 2004 grand jury investigation states, “Many SFFD personnel interviewed have witnessed on-duty drinking and other types of substance abuse” and that during the investigation, “on-duty consumption of alcohol and other drug abuse has been and continues to be tolerated in some stations. Some ranking officers in these stations are part of the problem.”
According to the grand jury’s findings, when officers were sent to stations to conduct investigations following up on alcohol-related tips, they were known to look the other way while firefighters disposed of alcohol.
The grand jury’s finding state, “Misplaced loyalty can sometimes supersede proper reporting of on-duty alcohol consumption.”
Koro said in the case of Quinn, he was allegedly caught on video surveillance at the Chieftain Irish Pub downing pitchers of water with colleagues following the crash, allegedly in an effort to sober up.
“It’s just outrageous,” Koro said.
San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said a department breathalyzer was used at the scene following the crash, but that those results were only intended for internal use.
The breathalyzers are “not calibrated to the same exact pinpoint as police” breathalyzers, making the results non-admissible as evidence in a criminal trial, Talmadge said.
She said Quinn resigned following the crash.
Talmadge said that while the fire department doesn’t have any comment on the judge’s recent decision to throw out the case, she said the department has had an outside agency doing random drug and alcohol testing since San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White took up her post in 2004.
Talmadge said that in order for Quinn’s blood-alcohol content level to be permissible as evidence in court, police would have had to administer their own field sobriety test following the crash.
However, Quinn allegedly left the scene of the collision, returning later, after consuming water and after significant time had elapsed, according to Koro.
Koro said he also doesn’t understand why Quinn wasn’t initially charged with felony hit-and-run, since he was allegedly not at the scene when police arrived.
By leaving the scene, Quinn postponed police officers’ ability to draw his blood to be tested for alcohol content, which led to “bungled” evidence, Koro said.
The civil lawsuit claims that the city and Quinn exhibited “despicable conduct and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others” and says they should be held financially responsible for the injuries that Frazier suffered and the damages his motorcycle sustained.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office is considering appealing the judge’s decision in the criminal case.
“We completely disagree with the judge’s ruling and are exploring all appellate options,” district attorney’s office spokesman Alex Bastian said today.
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News