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.
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.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
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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