4 Glendale firefighters on leave during investigation

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Four Glendale firefighters have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into an incident on Sunday, according to Michael Young, public information officer with the Glendale Fire Dept.

The department is not releasing the names of the firefighters.

A crew responded to help 30-year-old James Murillo, at his home near 83rd and Glendale Avenues Sunday afternoon. Murillo, according to court documents, overdosed on prescription medication because he "wanted to sleep."

Glendale firefighters and the man they were called to help were all treated for injuries they suffered during a confrontation at the man's home.

In a video of the incident, the firefighters are seen calling the man "dead meat," using profanity and making other threats.

"I want to offer our sincere apologies for the language that was used on the video produced last Sunday, that language was offensive by any standard," said Glendale Fire Chief Mark Burdick.

The Chief and a Glendale Police Sergeant addressed the media for the first time regarding the incident Thursday afternoon.

"We are not ignoring the uncertainty that this may have created with the public we serve," Chief Burdick said.

Firefighters said Murillo turned combative at the home, resisted going to the hospital, and swung at members of the crew.

Glendale police later arrested Murillo, and recommended assault charges be filed against him.

In a written statement, Joe Hester, the president of the union, Glendale Fire Fighters, said, "This was a rapidly escalating situation and the fire fighters on the scene needed to regain control. They had a patient lashing out, punching them, upset family members involving themselves and a number of onlookers engaged. The video doesn't tell that whole story. It just shows their response to a dynamic, challenging situation -- a response driven by adrenalin and the need to regain control of what was happening."

The man's family, and neighbors who witnessed the incident, said the firefighters overreacted and used excessive force on Murillo.

"What kind of professionalism is that? It's something that I cannot believe they did what they did," Raul Murillo, James' father, said.

Firefighters, in court documents, said Murillo swung at his father, as well, but Raul Murillo denies those claims.

Neighbors report seeing firefighters wheel Murillo of the home, strapped to a gurney. They said he was immobile, but at one point attempted to undo a buckle.

Murillo's family says he is schizophrenic and had a seizure and panic attack after overdosing on medication, causing his arms to flail as firefighters placed him on the gurney.

"Our current policy states  if you are in a physical altercation and you are in fear for yourself, your crew, and the public, you can use any means necessary to subdue the attacker," said Chief Burdick.

That policy though he says is now under review. In addition, Burdick says they are also looking into additional training to help firefighters handle these times of combative patients, which he says they are seeing more of.

"We also have seen many, many times the encountering of patients who have used drugs and are hostile or aggressive toward our firefighters," he said.

Firefighters, in a neighbor's cell phone video, are heard yelling and swearing at Murillo. The gurney collapsed to the ground.

"You're dead meat [expletive]!  I'm gonna have you for everything you have," one yelled.

Another firefighter told the neighbor to stop recording, but he refused.

"He's swinging at all of us. He hit me in my [expletive] mouth," one firefighter said to people watching the incident unfold.

Neighbors said they never saw Murillo swing at or punch a firefighter, but admit they did not see what happened inside the home before Murillo was wheeled out on the gurney. They said outside, things seemed calm at first.

"Then they started screaming and hollering at him while the guy was tied down," John Skinner told 3TV.  He watched the whole thing from his driveway across the street.

Court documents say two firefighters punched Murillo five or six times, and were treated for hand injuries after the incident.

"He's out of the hospital and out of jail.  Thank God he's ok," Raul Murillo added.

The attorney for the family told 3TV Thursday night that while the Murillos are grateful to have received a call from the fire chief apologizing for the foul language, they will likely file a notice of claim against the city and the firefighters involved.

The man who recorded the incident is pleased it's under internal review.

"[Firefighters are] always depicted as heroes, and they are absolutely heroes, but sometimes there's a bad apple or bad incident," he said.

When asked if the firefighters would be on leave and their actions investigated if there had not been a viral video, Burdick said he didn't have a simple answer.

"Because honestly, we've asked ourselves that," he said.

Hester also said, "The 911 calls fire fighters and paramedics answer can be dangerous and unpredictable. We're unarmed and we often end up being punched or attacked. When that happens, all we have to defend ourselves is our command presence and, when we're afraid or being assaulted, our hands. We do everything we can to handle these difficult situations in the best possible way."

The Glendale Fire Department declined to comment, but issued this statement:

The Glendale Fire Department and Glendale Police Department are conducting separate investigations involving an alleged aggravated assault incident between firefighters and a patient during an emergency response call. 

On Sunday, October 26, Glendale Firefighters and Paramedics responded to a call involving a man with seizure-like symptoms.

While attempting to administer medical attention to the patient, he apparently became combative. 

An internal investigation is being conducted by the Glendale Fire Department.

The Glendale Police Department concluded an initial investigation and recommended charges against the patient, which were submitted to the County Attorney's Office for review. 

Further comment will be provided when those investigations are complete.