Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Washington DC and 911 call center following failure to respond to drowning incident

The family of a man who tragically lost his life by drowning in the Washington Channel is filing a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, its Office of Unified Communications, and the mayor. The incident occurred after a 911 call categorized the man’s situation as non-urgent, with a Priority 2 designation.

The family of a man who tragically drowned in the Washington Channel is filing a lawsuit against the city of D.C., its Office of Unified Communications, and the mayor. This unfortunate incident occurred after a 911 call was made, classifying the situation as non-urgent and a Priority 2 case.

David Earl Griffin, aged 47, passed away on March 14, 2022, following a prolonged encounter with ambulance crews that lasted over half an hour.

Griffin found himself in the midst of a mental health crisis at approximately 6:15 p.m. in the Southwest Waterfront area, as stated in court documents.

According to a lawsuit filed by his daughter Aujah, there were approximately 10 calls made to 911 within a span of about four minutes. These calls described Mr. Griffin’s behavior as yelling, jumping on cars, and scaring bystanders.

According to the lawsuit, the dispatcher categorized the calls as an overdose situation and classified it as Priority 2. This meant that the response from emergency responders would be significantly delayed compared to a Priority 1 call.

At approximately 6:42 p.m., the ambulance crew urgently signaled a 10-33, indicating that they were facing immediate danger.

“Mr. Griffin was in crisis. Yet police did not even receive the call for about 22 minutes and did not respond for at least 30 minutes, an unconscionable delay in response due to the emergency dispatcher’s incorrect classification of the call as a drug overdose warranting a Priority 2 response. That response was inconceivably delayed even further by the emergency dispatcher’s failure to report to police officers the change in location the EMT personnel had reported when EMTs called dispatch pleading for assistance.”

The lawsuit states that Mr. Griffin’s death was a direct consequence of these failures.

The lawsuit includes the District, Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Office of Unified Communications, and two former directors of the agency.

The OUC decided to review its procedures for when the police are called for help in response to the original case involving Fire and EMS calls.

According to a spokesperson for OUC, there is acknowledgment of the need for improvement in the agency’s handling of Griffin’s drowning after conducting an initial investigation.

The lawsuit highlights several instances where the OUC and police have seemingly let down city residents by not providing timely and adequate emergency services to those in need. It also alleges that the District has violated the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act by failing to establish crime prevention teams that are specifically trained to handle mental health crises.

Griffin’s family referred to him as a devoted father to 10 children and a proud grandfather to 17 grandchildren. They are currently pursuing compensation for his wrongful death, negligence, and damages through a survivorship action, along with other legal claims.

Former Director Karima Holmes and Interim Director Cleo Subido are among the officials mentioned in the lawsuit.

Subido has taken legal action against the District, claiming that she was terminated for bringing attention to issues within the agency. She also alleges that the Bowser administration made repeated attempts to hide significant mistakes.

Ciara Wells from WTOP has made a valuable contribution to this report.

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