Judge says it was OK for police to access firefighter's prescription records
A Unified Fire Authority assistant chief accused of obtaining prescription drugs under false pretenses had no reason to believe his medical information was private, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Assistant Chief Marlon Don Jones is charged with 14 counts of falsely obtaining prescriptions, which is also known as doctor shopping. Each of the third-degree felonies carry a possible sentence of up to five years in the Utah state prison.
Defense attorney Tyler Ayers argued Wednesday that Jones had his medical information illegally searched by law enforcement in a sweeping investigation of UFA over missing opiates.
He invoked doctor-patient confidentiality laws and argued that Jones had an expectation that his medical history and conversations he had with his doctors would remain private.
Third District Judge James Blanch disagreed.
"There can't be an objective expectation of privacy because the state gives access [to a person's prescription history] to law enforcement in cases like this," Blanch said.
Jones, 48, came under scrutiny last year when Cottonwood Heights police began investigating employees who had access to UFA's controlled substance supplies when several medications disappeared.
According to Detective James Woods, that meant investigating 480 employees who had access to the drugs.
Jones was found to have a large number of prescriptions for several highly-addictive controlled substances from various pharmacies, including hydrocodone and carisoprodol, which are pain killers, and zolpidem, a sleep aid, according to court documents.
The prescriptions Jones used had been issued by three doctors, at least two of whom did not know Jones had been prescribed drugs from other physicians, according to court documents.
Jones initially admitted to taking the pain relievers Celebrex and Lortab infrequently and only as needed. After he was confronted about his prescription drug history, Jones acknowledged taking pain medication three times a day, documents state.
Investigators suspect Jones was receiving the prescriptions for about a year.
Jones was never charged or accused of stealing medication from the UFA and is not suspected in the case of the missing drugs.
On Wednesday, Jones and his attorney asserted that he did not withhold information from his doctors intentionally or criminally, and that investigators using the missing drugs to examine the medical histories of 480 employees was akin to police searching for a burglar going into every garage in a given neighborhood.
"The ability to look up that information does not give law enforcement the right to look it up," Ayers said. "Just because a law enforcement officer has a boot does not mean he has the right to kick in your door. He has the ability, not the right."
Fire Chief Michael Jensen has said that Jones who has been a county fire employee for 24 years was a good employee, and that no one suspected he had a drug-abuse problem.
Jones has been on paid administrative leave since he was charged.
Jones, who lives in Bluffdale, has no prior criminal history, according to a search of Utah court records. He was promoted in January from a battalion chief to the position of assistant chief, according to a UFA board agenda notice.