LONG BEACH, Calif. (CN) – A whistleblower claims in Federal Court that Long Beach city officials covered up an understaffed and mismanaged 911 communications center, whose delays in answering emergency calls caused several deaths.
Michael Mawn sued Long Beach, its Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey J. Craig, alleging civil rights and Labor Code violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Mawn says in his complaint that if he “discovers sufficient information” to do so, he will ask the court to add City Manager Patrick West as a defendant.
Mawn is a former coordinator of Long Beach’s emergency communications center. He worked for the city for more than 30 years. He claims he was forced to resign after he was harassed for exposing a 911 communications center that jeopardized public safety.
Mawn claims that delays in 911 response times caused “life-impacting delays” to tens of thousands of callers and resulted in several deaths, including the murder of a child whose mother was left on hold, the delay of a call reporting a murder for hire, and loss of life in a building fire.
“Mawn was a committed public servant who loved his job and he was well respected in his positions – that is, until he broke the code of silence and blew the whistle on corruption and misuse of taxpayer resources by his LBPD [Long Beach Police Department] supervisors, certain city council members and by members of the city attorney’s office. After doing so and testifying to the grand jury about the same, the city’s power structure sprang into retaliatory action, eventually accomplishing the termination of Mawn’s employment,” the complaint states.
In late 2009, Mawn says, he filed a complaint with the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury, claiming that the city had delayed a plan to change from a wire-based 911 system to receive 911 calls from cell phones, which caused critical delays in emergency services.
Mawn claims the Long Beach Police Department delayed implementation of a state-mandated system for routing wireless calls because police wanted to use it as a “political bargaining chip” to expand the department’s budget.
He claims that Deputy Chief Craig exacerbated the center’s staffing problems by removing operators so they could attend private fund-raising events and other “pet projects.”
Even after the city finally deployed the new wireless system, the city was negligent, Mawn says. He claims that just months before he filed his grand jury complaint, he alerted Long Beach Police Department of wait times of up to 3 minutes, but officials then told the city there was no need for additional 911 staff.
Mawn says that after he filed his grand jury complaint, the city confiscated his files, initiated a “bogus” internal affairs investigation of him, reassigned him – 45 minutes before he testified before the Grand Jury in late 2009 – and removed files from his office while he was on vacation.
He claims the city offered to return him to the position of communications center coordinator if he agreed to stop his whistleblowing activities. Mawn says that after he refused, the campaign of retaliation against him intensified.
Mawn says he was forced to resign in March 2011. He filed a complaint for damages, but says the city rejected it in November 2011.
Mawn’s attorney Genie Harrison, with Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison, told Courthouse News in an emailed statement that Mawn had reported his concerns “within his chain of command for years” but that his reports “fell on deaf ears.”
“After a thirty-one year career, Mawn was driven out of his job just because he exercised his First Amendment rights and blew the whistle on conduct that was jeopardizing the citizens’ safety. This is an injustice that cannot stand,” Harrison wrote.
Mawn seeks punitive damages.
Christina Checel, Long Beach’s senior deputy city attorney, said the city had not reviewed Mawn’s court filing but was “prepared to defend itself in court.”