How not to incriminate yourself at breaking news scenes
An army of investigators will leave no stone unturned for a trace of evidence, so make sure you’re not in the spotlight
By David Givot
In what can only be described as a horrific confluence of unfortunate timing and rotten luck, two fire engines collided enroute to an emergency call, sending a multi-ton fire truck through a window and into a restaurant full of diners.
Fifteen patients were transported to the local trauma center and other area hospitals; among the injured were six firefighters.
Dozens more EMS personnel from neighboring agencies responded to the chaotic scene and made fast work of rescuing victims and sorting out what had happened. The specific cause of this terrible accident remains under investigation.
When the dust settles, I am sure there will be lessons learned followed by steps taken to prevent similar incidences. We must learn from tragedy to become better.
However, there are vital teachings we can take away immediately.
Later down the road the excitement and drama will fade and lawsuits by those in desperate need to find fault — and recompense — will likely just be coming to life. An army of investigators will leave no stone unturned for any trace of evidence, so make sure you’re not in the spotlight.
Here are three things that every EMS provider should remember and follow in the wake of such critical events:
1. Stay off your phone
Who called whom and what did they say? You have incriminated yourself or someone else. The person you called easily just became a witness too. The same holds true for text messaging.
2. Don’t take pictures
Don’t take out your phone to snap photos, either. It may be a spectacular shot, but taking pictures potentially violates confidentiality laws, and taking or sharing images from the scene and possibly compromises the investigation.
3. Remain silent
Do not speak about any aspect of the incident with reporters, civilians, or anyone else who is not directly part of the crew on the scene. After the fact, do not speak to anyone who is not a superior officer of your agency assigned to manage one or more aspects of the incident. Everything you say can be used against you or misconstrued against the truth.
The closer you are to the epicenter of the incident, the more vital — and precious — your right to remain silent and your right to counsel.
With a full understanding of the critical nature of the investigation, and an absolute willingness to cooperate with it, do not speak with law enforcement investigators until after you have consulted with an attorney who can quickly assess your criminal liability exposure and advise you accordingly. It’s a good idea to have such an attorney on standby who can respond to the scene for just such incidents.
Of course, more often than not, the facts will bear out that there is no actual or probable criminal liability for you.
However, you do not want to be the one who forfeited the right to silence and lost everything because your description of events was "misinterpreted."