D.C. fire lieutenant accused of neglect of duty retires before panel decides her fate


Lt. Kellene Davis leaves the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center in Washington on March 21. (Hamil Harris/The Washington Post)

A D.C. fire lieutenant accused of failing to help a dying man outside a firehouse in January will not face possible discipline or termination because she was granted retirement Thursday, hours before a department panel deciding her fate privately announced its findings.

Lt. Kellene Davis, a 28-year veteran, will receive a full pension, roughly 70 percent of her $100,000 annual salary, despite having faced six administrative charges of neglect of duty. Those charges included accusations that she failed to properly command her unit and assist Medric Cecil Mills Jr., who collapsed after suffering a heart attack Jan. 25 across the street from Davis’s station in Northeast Washington. He died hours later at a hospital.

Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe said he had denied a request by Davis to retire immediately after Mills had died, forcing her to file with a retirement board. That delayed the process at least 60 days, long enough for her to face a disciplinary hearing. But he said he could not legally stop her from retiring before the board made its decision, which has not been made public.

“We did everything we could to hold her accountable, but we were constrained by the law,” Ellerbe said Thursday. “It’s disappointing.” He said her retirement “renders moot” any decision the trial board may have made. The chief said the disciplinary panel completed deliberations and reached a conclusion but had not yet forwarded it to him.

Davis’s attorney, Donna Rucker, declined to comment, saying that as of Thursday afternoon, she had not been informed of the decision by the D.C Police and Firefighters Retirement and Relief Board. An official with that agency confirmed that Davis was officially retired as of Thursday.

The family of Mills, 77, expressed anger that Davis was allowed to retire while facing the charges.

In a statement, they said that Davis’s retirement and closed-door hearing, which was held in secret over two days in March, undermined promises by District officials to be open and accountable.

Their attorney, Karen Evans, said in a statement that allowing “the lieutenant off scot-free and to receive retirement without adverse action is outrageous.” She called the internal disciplinary system “inadequate and unjust.”

Mills’s death prompted calls for widespread changes as well as a report commissioned by the mayor’s office and a hearing before the D.C. Council’s public safety committee.

The report uncovered many failures, among them that an ambulance eventually dispatched for Mills went to the wrong address and that one firefighter went to his bunk to study for a promotional exam instead of rushing to help.

Davis has said in a letter to the fire chief and in a brief statement after one of her hearings in March that by the time she learned that Mills was in distress, help from elsewhere was already on the way.

Even had Davis been found guilty, it is unlikely that her retirement would have been hampered. Her pension is based on her salary averaged over 36 months; even a demotion and cut in pay would have had minimal impact.

Also, pensions can be reduced or eliminated only if an employee is convicted of a crime of embezzlement from the District.

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