Cooperating attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed a federal lawsuit against Pawtucket city officials on behalf of five firefighters whose personal lockers at the fire station were searched by police without their knowledge or consent. The lawsuit, filed by ACLU of RI volunteer attorneys Danilo Borgas and Richard Sinapi, argues that the search violated the firefighters’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and a state law protecting privacy.
The unlawful searches took place after Pawtucket police officer Mario Comella sought and obtained a search warrant for a car owned by firefighter Patrick White based on a complaint that White was illegally transporting firearms from the vehicle. The search led to White’s arrest for firearms violations. The warrant did not authorize a search of White’s fire station locker, much less those of any other firefighters, nor was there any allegation that other firefighters were involved at all in White’s alleged illegal activities. Nonetheless, the police, with the approval of Fire Chief John Trenteseaux, searched the plaintiffs’ personal lockers without their consent one day when they were away from the station.
The lawsuit notes that, because firefighters are often on duty for 24 hours at a time, the fire station has a segregated private section, which includes dedicated facilities for sleeping and showering, as well as personal lockers for firefighters to store their private belongings. Their work lockers, where they store their firefighting gear, is located in another part of the station.
As the lawsuit points out, the private residential areas of the station are “effectively the firefighters’ home away from home during their long shifts and are an essential area of private and personal space which allows them to perform their job duties and work for such long and continuous periods of time.” Among the items kept in their personal lockers, which can only be opened with a fob key, are prescription medicine, clothing, wallets, laptops, and personal mail, including bank and credit card statements and correspondence. 
The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring the searches unconstitutional, barring any future searches of the firefighters’ personal lockers without a search warrant, requiring the destruction of any information obtained from the illegal searches, and an award of compensatory and punitive damages. The plaintiffs in the case are firefighters Noah LeBlanc, Stephen Garlick, Manuel Benevides, Scott McDonald, and Steven Como.

For more information on the case and the complaint, see LeBlanc v. City of Pawtucket.