WASHINGTON (CN) - D.C. firefighters let a 77-year-old man die of a heart attack at their doorstep because they wanted an official dispatch before responding, a family claims in court.
Medric Mills Jr. was across the street from Engine House 26, walking toward the parking lot of the Brentwood Shopping Center on Jan. 25, 2014, when he collapsed, according to the complaint his two children filed in superior court.
It was about 2:30 p.m. when the owner of a nearby computer store called 911, but the Mills say that precious time ticked away because the dispatcher sent responders to the wrong quadrant.
"Meanwhile, multiple district residents ran across the street to the front door of Engine House 26 to request emergency medical assistance for Mr. Mills," the June 3 complaint states.
The Mills note that five individuals - firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics - were on duty, but that the lieutenant manning the watch desk shut down each citizen who asked for help by directing them to call 911.
Lt. Remy Jones advised that the five "firefighter/EMT/paramedic could not help because they had not been dispatched to the scene," the complaint states.
The Mills name the district and Jones as defendants, plus his four co-workers from the day in question: Kellene Davis, George Martin, David Dennis and Garrett Murphy.
They say all five were trained in CPR and the use of the automated external defibrillator that they had on hand, but failed to respond to the medical emergency.
"Acting with deliberate indifference to the known consequences of their inaction and with a complete and utter conscious disregard for the life of Medric Cecil Mills, Jr... Defendants Lt. Davis, Murphy, Martin, Dennis and Jones either laid in their bunks, studied for a promotion exam, sat in the kitchen and/or actually watched the medical emergency unfold directly across the street from the fire station without rendering any assistance," the complaint states.
Though Jones did use the engine's public-announcement system to summon Davis, the officer in charge, Davis failed to respond to two calls, according to the complaint.
The Mills say that it turned out that "the PA system in various fire station rooms had been manually shut of."
Someone needed only to press a button on the touch-screen system to turn the speakers back on, according to the complaint.
The Mills say Murphy, Dennis and Martin all heard the "urgent" call Jones placed as they prepared or a meal in the kitchen.
Murphy walked over to ask Jones "what was going on," and Jones relayed that there was a "man 'down' across the street," according to the complaint.
Mills' children say Murphy and Jones knew that they had "the authority and duty to place Engine House 26 fire station on the call and render aid to Mr. Mills."
Nevertheless Murphy erroneously told Jones they needed to contact Davis before dispatching any firefighters to the scene, according to the complaint.
When Murphy finally found Davis in her bunkroom and apprised her of the emergency across the street, Davis delayed the response further by telling Murphy "to ascertain the exact address and report back to her before any emergency assistance would be rendered," the complaint states.
The Mills note that "Davis has since admitted that an exact address was not required."
Murphy never brought Davis the address, the Mills say. Instead he allegedly sat down with the others in the kitchen and told them about the "man down" across the street. Then he went to his car, got some text books and went to his bunkroom to study for a promotion exam, according to the complaint.
The Mills say it finally took a police officer to flag down an ambulance "that just happened to be passing by" for paramedics to treat Mills.
At this point Mills was not breathing and had no pulse. He arrived at Washington Hospital Center at 3:12 p.m. and was pronounced dead 36 minutes later.
The Washington Post reported that Lt. Jones was fired in December 2014 and Lt. Davis resigned shortly after the incident.
Marie Mills and Medric Mills III seek $46.2 million in damages for wrongful death, failure to train and other violations.
When contacted about the lawsuit, Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue noted in an email that "Medric Mills' death in January 2014 was a tragedy."
"Mayor Bowser is committed to reforming DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and recruited Chief Gregory Dean, an experienced, nationally respected fire-EMS leader, to direct that effort," Donahue added. "The administration will continue to work ceaselessly with the Mills family, community members and the Council to implement needed reforms in a timely, effective manner."
In addition to the events of Mills' death, his children detail eight instances since 2006 in which the department "engaged in a historic pattern and practice of substandard delivery of pre-hospital emergency medical care and a pervasive culture of deliberate indifference to the rights of District residents in the delivery of pre-hospital emergency medical care and practice."
Less than three weeks before Mills' death, Assistant Fire Chief Eugene Jones had even issued a memo on responding to "non-traditional alerts for assistance," the complaint states.
The Mills are represented by Karen Evans of the Cochran Firm, who said the case could hinge on the public duty doctrine, which holds that the city has a duty to its citizens as a whole, not to any one specific person.
Evans said she plans to argue this doctrine should not apply in cases where the "conduct is inexcusable."
"This isn't about any money for [the Mills family], it's about real reform," Evans said in an interview.
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