Report says Glendale firefighters used 'excessive force' on patient

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Two Glendale firefighters used "excessive force" during an altercation with a mentally ill patient in October, according to the city's internal investigation.

A neighbor recorded part of the incident on his phone, and Glendale human resources staff and a Glendale city attorney used the video and witness statements to come up with their ruling.

The patient, 30-year-old James Murillo, suffers from schizophrenia, according to his family. He was having seizures after an overdose on medications.

Murillo punched one of the firefighters who arrived to take him to the hospital, and said he was trying to get off the gurney.  

The neighbor's video picks up outside the family's home, as firefighters swear at Murillo and his family.

In the report, firefighters say they punched Murillo to "subdue him," to "retaliate," and to "defend themselves."

However, city officials found two firefighters used "excessive force."

They ruled one of them, a captain with more than 15 years on the job, "committed acts of violence against the patient."

The investigators said, "...the amount of force used appears disproportionate to the patient's 'flailing' attempts at assaulting the firefighters..."

They continued, "...the use of profane language was not warranted and ... fueled by anger rather than a genuine desire to defuse the situation."

Also, the firefighters were criticized for the way they handled a patient they knew was medicated for mental illness.

The internal report says the captain, "...exhibited extremely poor judgment in responding to the actions of a patient he knew was mentally unstable..."

Another firefighter punched Murillo "five or six times," leading the officials to conclude, "...the physical force used on the patient ... appears to be excessive, particularly in light of the patient's body position (seated and strapped to the gurney)..."

"They need to be able to subdue him, but to ... beat him? It just wasn't called for," the patient's attorney, David Lunn, told 3TV.

His clients plan to file a notice of claim against the city and the fire department next week.

No firefighters were injured, but Murillo's attorney said his client suffered a concussion and was diagnosed with PTSD after the incident.

"It's stressful for him and the family. They moved out of their house. They don't know what to do if he has a seizure again. They fear to call the fire department, wondering if this could happen again to them. That's their mindset," Lunn said.

The city's internal review of the incident was completed in January but labeled "confidential." It was obtained by 3TV on Wednesday.

It recommends discipline against the firefighters but does not make specific suggestions.

"It is a practice of the city to not provide comment on personnel matters as city employees are subject to due process rights and therefore the city cannot respond until the employee’s due process rights have been exhausted," Glendale Public Information Officer Julie Watters told 3TV.
 
"The timeline for due process can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months as each case creates a different scenario," she added.

No criminal charges were filed against anyone involved.

Glendale's fire chief called the Murillo family to apologize for the firefighters' profanity. He also promised to send his staff through training on how to deal with combative patients and those dealing with mental disorders.

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