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Hearing delayed for Utah fire official accused of illegally obtaining Rx drugs

Published January 21, 2014 8:34 pm

Courts • Assistant fire chief claims doctor-patient privilege bars physicians' testimony.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Unified Fire Authority assistant chief accused of obtaining prescription drugs under false pretenses has alleged that law enforcement conducted an illegal search of his medical records, and asked a judge Tuesday to ban his former doctors from testifying against him at a probable cause hearing.

According to a motion filed with 3rd District Court on behalf of Marlon Jones, a Cottonwood Heights Police officer did not obtain a warrant from a judge before he conducted interviews with doctors from whom Jones had received prescription medications that prosecutors have alleged were excessive and illegal.

This, argued defense attorney Tyler Ayers, violated his client's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures.

"Mr. Jones did not seek out multiple doctors in attempt to acquire a bounty of prescription medication," according to a motion Ayers filed with the court. "He was using multiple doctors because of their specific skill sets and upon the recommendations of each of them."

Jones is charged with 14 counts of third-degree felony falsely obtaining prescriptions. Each count carries a possible sentence of up to five years in state prison.

On Tuesday, a preliminary hearing was scheduled before Judge Su Chon at which prosecutors were expected to lay out their evidence against the long-time fire supervisor. The judge would then determine if Jones should be ordered to stand trial.

But Chon ruled that the hearing could not go forward with the defense's request to toss the doctors' testimony.

Judge Robin Reese will decide whether the physicians' testimony would violate doctor-patient privacy privilege or whether they should be allowed to take the stand.

"The purpose of Jones' use of multiple physicians was not to procure unlawful or fraudulent prescriptions for medication but to receive medical attention for various medical problems," Ayers argues in his motion. "Therefore, the physician-patient privilege does apply and all communications made to [Jones's doctors] are protected ... and are not admissible as evidence against Mr. Jones."

If the judge decides to exclude the doctors' testimony, that would leave a nurse, pharmacist and the Cottonwood Heights investigator to testify, according to probable cause documents filed with the court.

Cottonwood Heights police began investigating Jones, 48, after the agency was asked to look into irregularities and discrepancies concerning UFA's supply of controlled substances, according to a UFA statement.

In so doing, investigators began exploring the drug histories of more than 400 UFA employees.

According to court documents, 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.

The prescriptions Jones used had been issued by three doctors, at least two of whom told investigators they did not know Jones had been prescribed drugs from other physicians.

Ayers contends the doctors did know of their patient's medical history and all were being lawfully used to treat various ailments.

Jones initially admitted to taking the pain relievers Celebrex and Lortab infrequently and only as needed, charges state. But after he was confronted about his prescription drug history, Jones acknowledged taking pain medication three times a day.

Investigators suspect Jones was receiving the prescriptions for about a year.

Although UFA had an ongoing investigation into missing drug supplies, UFA Chief Michael Jensen has said the charges against Jones are unrelated.

Jensen added 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 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.

He has been on paid administrative leave since he was charged in May.


Twitter: @Marissa_Jae




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