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Cottonwood Heights mayor defends police search of drug database

Cottonwood Heights mayor defends police search of drug database

(Mike Terry)

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore on Friday defended his police department's search of the state's prescription drug database that led to criminal charges against a United Fire Authority official and a lawsuit against the city.

The intent of the investigation was to protect the public after vials of morphine and other drugs were stolen from several ambulances and replaced with saline, he said. Trauma victims, he said, weren't getting relief because paramedics were treating them with medication that was tampered with.

"This was not a witch hunt against the firefighters," Cullimore said.

Unified Fire Authority Assistant Chief Marlon Jones and paramedic Ryan Pyle have filed separate federal lawsuits against the city, claiming Cottonwood Heights police violated their privacy when a detective obtained their medical history through the database without probable cause or a search warrant.

Although the police investigation didn't uncover who stole the drugs, it resulted in prescription fraud charges against Pyle. State prosecutors dropped the charges against both about 18 months later.

The lawsuit contends Cullimore, who sits on the Unified Fire Authority board, gave Cottonwood Heights police a list of 480 firefighters to run through the database as part of the investigation. Cullimore denied the accusation, and said only the chief or assistant chiefs could release the names to police.

"It wasn't me. I never saw the list," he said.

Cullimore said police used the drug database the way it has been used since it was created 20 years ago. He said the detective didn't do anything illegal or violate any medical confidentiality laws.

This was not a witch hunt against the firefighters.

–Kelvyn Cullimore, Cottonwood Heights Mayor

Until lawmakers changed the law earlier this year, based largely on Jones' experience, police had unrestricted access to the database. Now, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant to which a specific name is attached before accessing it.

"To infer we did something wrong now that the law has changed is inaccurate," Cullimore said.

The mayor said police turned what they found in Jones' case over 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 and never abused his pain medication, said his attorney Tyler Ayres.

A month before Jones' trial was to start and 18 months after arresting him, prosecutors dismissed the charges.

Cullimore said all the anger is directed at Cottonwood Heights, but there's plenty of blame to go around. He questioned why the district attorney's office filed charges to begin with and then abruptly dropped them.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said prosecutors discovered some of the testimony from some of the doctors wasn't as strong as they initially thought, and could actually have been a basis for a defense.

"As that evidence softened, we didn't feel comfortable to go forward," he said Friday.

Gill said he couldn't speak to how police use the prescription drug database and that every investigation stands on its own.

"We did exactly what we were supposed to do," he said.

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