ACLU files amicus brief in support of UFA firefighter facing drug charges

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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- Hundreds of Unified Fire Authority employees' private medical information was studied last year during a Cottonwood Heights police investigation.

As a result, several people were arrested including UFA firefighter Ryan Pyle who was charged with drug fraud. His attorney wants the evidence against him thrown out and the ACLU agrees.

The ACLU of Utah described the Cottonwood Heights Police investigation as a fishing expedition and says the search through employee's prescription drug records, including Ryan Pyle's violates the fourth amendment.

"In this particular case, there were thefts of morphine that occurred at a number of fire stations," said Rebecca Skordas who represents Pyle.

It all started last year when some UFA employees stumbled on something suspicious. They discovered several empty vials of morphine in ambulances at three fire stations. They wanted answers, so police were called to investigate.

"This particular law enforcement officer obtained the names of every single Unified Fire Authority civil servant," said Skordas in an interview with FOX 13.

A Cottonwood Heights Police Detective did some digging using the Utah Controlled Substances Database.

The case surrounding the mystery over empty vials of drugs went unsolved but three people were arrested: UFA Assistant Chief Marlon Jones, paramedic Bruce Bergdahl and firefighter Ryan Pyle.

They've all been accused of falsely obtaining pain pills.

"We filed this amicus in order to support Ryan Pyle who is seeking to have what was dug up in that search to have that suppressed," said Leah Farrell, a staff Attorney with The ACLU of Utah.

Farrell said law enforcement has an unfettered doorway to anyone's prescription history in the state and 480 UFA employees were vulnerable during this particular investigation.

Police had access to private information about whether personnel suffered from anxiety disorders, chronic pain, insomnia or AIDS.

"We filed in this important case because we feel there's a fundamental constitutional violation," Ferrell said.

"I find it hard to believe that every single civil servant of Unified Fire Authority was a suspect in the theft of morphine from station 116, and there was no reason to look at everybody's records and this just turned into a fishing expedition," said Skordas, who thinks this case is much bigger than her client.

Pyle's defense lawyer believes it should raise questions about why police officers have access to such private information without having to obtain a search warrant.

FOX 13 reached out to Unified Fire Authority for comment, but hasn't heard back. Calls to The Utah Attorney General's Office which is prosecuting Pyle's case have not been returned either.

8 comments

  • Eric Anderson

    Clearly the search was unconstitutional. There was no probable cause. No warrant to search his records specifically. What’s the point of pretending the 5th Amendment means anything if we allow this kind of nonsense?

    • Bob

      The leaders of our country cherry pick which parts of our Constitution and it’s Amendments they want to uphold, to bend, or to ignore. Is the 5th Amendment any more or less important than the 2nd, or the 1st?

      If a UFA firefighter is committing drug fraud I want him gone.

      • Holden

        Hey Bob don’t just believe these slanderous charges for face value. I know one of these men personally and he was not committing drug fraud. He was a firefighter with a flawless record whose name was/is dragged through the mud for dishonest and lazy police officers. You have no right to judge without knowing any facts about this case.

  • Bob

    According to the story Ryan Pyle is seeking to have the evidence that dug up in that search suppressed. What is that evidence? It would appear from the story that Mr. Pyle has something he is trying to hide.

    • LD

      The evidence from the search would be the prescription records. Pyle isn’t trying to hide anything. He’s trying to take things back to the way they were before the police violated his constitutional rights.

      • Bob

        “The evidence from the search would be the prescription records.”
        The phrase “Doctor Shopping” comes to mind. Would the records reveal prescriptions from multiple doctors? Why else would anyone want to suppress the evidence?

  • alex

    Bob please post all of your and your entire family’s drug prescriptions for the last 5 years online for us all to see. The cottonwood police department needs to do the same for all its employees. Are you a police officer with something to hide?

    • Bruce

      Very good point Alex, but don’t expect “Bob” to reveal anything at all. People like “Bob” believe privacy is the equivalence to guilt, and yet these same people don’t want to reveal anything about themselves – they might look “guilty”.

      Let’s also expand on your demand for CHPD to investigate it’s own employee’s prescription records. Detective Woods from CHPD was more than happy to pull all of UFA employee records, but why didn’t he pull all of CHPD employee records. After all, the CHPD stores equipment less than 50 feet away from the ambulance where the drugs were stolen. And CHPD cops have UNRESTRICTED ACCESS to the ambulance where the drugs were stolen. Therefore, CHPD and its employees are JUST AS SUSPECT as UFA firefighters, and yet no one thought to investigate the prescription histories of CHPD officers.

      I wonder why? Or as “Bob” would suggest; I wonder what they are HIDING? They must be hiding something, because if they are “innocent”, they would have disclosed those records already. Any comment’s about that, “Bob”?

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