Union wants Spokane firehouse sex case sealed

SPOKANE – The city’s firefighters union is trying to block the public release of city documents detailing the case against a firefighter who quit after admitting on-duty sex with a teenage girl and photographing the encounter.

Firefighters Local 29, which represents the city’s 290 firefighters, got a temporary court order Thursday blocking the city attorney’s office from releasing documents about former firefighter Daniel W. Ross.

The Spokesman-Review newspaper had sought release of the documents under the state’s Open Records Act.

“The information sought by the public disclosure request will violate Dan Ross’ right to privacy” and would be “offensive and embarrassing,” Christian Phelps, an attorney representing Ross and the union, said in court filings.

In response, the newspaper filed legal papers Friday stating there’s no legal reason why the documents should not be released to the public.

A hearing before Superior Court Judge Harold Clarke III is scheduled for Tuesday.

The union took the legal action after sending the mayor a letter threatening an unfair labor practices complaint if the city released the records about Ross.

If the file about Ross’ conduct is released to the public, union President Greg Borg said, it “will effectively put a wet blanket on any future discipline hearings.”

“My members will be reluctant to answer questions, knowing their answers will be in the newspaper,” Borg wrote. “If the system of discipline is to continue as is, then this release must be stopped.”

As a union member, Ross was entitled to see the entire file, including the names of his accusers and the city’s case against him, which could have resulted in his firing if he hadn’t resigned.

Newspaper attorneys Duane Swinton and Tracy LeRoy said in court papers that the union “has not demonstrated that it is named in the public records at issue or that the records pertain to the union,” and therefore lacks legal standing in the public records lawsuit.

They also said the records in question do not constitute “personal information” that otherwise would be exempt from disclosure under the state’s Open Records Act, which should be “liberally construed” in favor of releasing government files.

The newspaper formally requested the records on Feb. 14, about two weeks before publishing a story identifying Ross as the firefighter involved in the encounter at Fire Station No. 17 in northwest Spokane.

The newspaper also named two police detectives, Neil Gallion and Sgt. Joe Peterson, saying they deleted digital pictures of the sex between the firefighter and the 16-year-old girl.

Police initially said there would be no criminal charges, and the case was closed. But after a public outcry, prosecutor Steve Tucker said his office would reopen the investigation.

The girl’s boyfriend reported the incident as a rape, but detectives concluded the sexual activity in the firehouse was consensual. Possessing sexually explicit pictures of someone under 18 is a felony. Police said they believed Ross’ story that he thought the girl was over 18.

Ross, an 11-year veteran of the Fire Department and father of a 6-week-old daughter, resigned his $63,769-a-year job on March 8 after his attorney received the city’s case against him, outlined in the file of documents.

Because they haven’t been released, it’s unclear what documents are in the file, but they likely include statements from two firefighters on duty with Ross when the sexual encounter occurred on Feb. 10.

The file also is expected to include city computer logs showing Ross used a city firehouse computer to access an adults-only Internet site to meet and chat with the girl before they met.

The day Ross resigned, Fire Chief Bobby Williams said the department’s investigation revealed the firefighter had accessed “AdultFriendFinders.com” 22 times in recent months.

Borg and other union leaders said at the time they were glad Ross resigned to avoid further embarrassment to the rank and file.

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