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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

'Mildly Retarded' Man, Whose Repeated Calls Led to Fire Department Crash, Exonerated

Posted By on Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 2:59 PM

click to enlarge Don't touch that dial!
  • Don't touch that dial!
A San Francisco man was acquitted last week of 21 misdemeanor counts of falsely reporting an emergency -- an investigation kicked off after a firefighter crashed a department pickup truck while responding to one of the bogus calls.

Jose Garcia's public defender, Corey Farris, calls the fact the case was

tried at all the "outrage of the week," since

authorities never attempted to put a stop to her 25-year-old "mildly mentally

retarded" client's behavior prior to arresting him.

While Garcia's number

couldn't be tracked on many of the calls since he persistently dialed the non-emergency

dispatch line, on four instances he gave dispatchers his address at an eight-unit apartment building on San

Jose Avenue; one time he gave his name; and twice he left his phone

number, Farris says.

"I honestly think the battalion chief [who

crashed] got pissed off and wanted to find out who it is," Farris says.

Sixth battalion chief Michael Kearney -- the chief in question -- understandably denies that.

click to enlarge The San Francisco Fire Department is down one pickup truck after Jose Garcia's spate of calls...
  • The San Francisco Fire Department is down one pickup truck after Jose Garcia's spate of calls...

Garcia made 21 calls between March and June, reporting "a smell of smoke" at various locations

throughout the city, Farris says. Even though dispatch would

inform firefighters that the caller was likely their serial smoke-reporter, Kearney notes that the fire

department is mandated to respond each time -- with up to a 12-vehicle team

required when someone reports smoke in a building.

At issue was

the Garcia's mental capacity: While he has never been diagnosed, the

public defender argued that

he is "mildly mentally retarded" and a "little bit simple," having been

in special ed classes in high school and accompanying his mom to her

job as a crossing guard daily. Garcia said in his police interrogation

that he "wanted to save people," she says. The district attorney argued

that he showed obvious

signs of guilt: never once sticking around to help out the crew once

they arrived, and never telling his family about the smoke even when he

called from their apartment.

Whatever the cause for the calls, while responding on June 1 with his

emergency lights on, Kearney blew a stop sign in

his department pickup truck at San Jose and 25th street while he was

reaching to turn on his siren. He T-boned a car driving through the

intersection. No one was injured. While the California Highway Patrol found Kearney to be at fault by blowing the sign, the fireman wasn't issued a ticket. The truck is still out of service. 

After the crash, the city ramped up efforts to track Garcia down. On

June 3, the dispatch supervisor called in a police investigator to show

him a list of bogus phone calls from the same caller. The dispatch

supervisor had requested that AT&T trap the originating phone of

these false reports "because the final known call resulted in the SFFD

Battalion Chief" responding and getting in an accident while doing so,

according to the police report.

boy_who_cried_wolf.jpg
Yet Garcia wasn't caught until he made four more calls on June 8. The

police arrested Garcia from his family's San Jose Avenue apartment and booked him

into custody. His family bailed him out for $6,300.

Farris, the public defender, motioned to have the case postponed for six

months to see if Garcia would strike again -- since he had no criminal

record -- but the DA did not relent. Farris successfully motioned to keep

any mention of the crash out of the trial.

"Throughout his statement [to police] he just said 'I called to save

people.' They tried to get him to say 'you called because you wanted to

see fire engines,'" Farris says. "I think it's pretty outrageous,

especially with someone who's mentally slow, that you wouldn't go to the

house and say 'This is a problem, why don't you stop,'" Farris continues. She

adds that Garcia hasn't made any more calls since the trial. 

The jury deliberated for three hours before finding Garcia not guilty on

all counts. 

Kearney says he's just happy the calls have stopped. "When

people report something and we respond, we wipe out our resources. And

if something else comes in, a medical or fire emergency, all these units

are already at that other area."

Or, like his former truck, out of commission entirely.

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and @SFWeekly

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Lauren Smiley

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