TESTIMONY CONCLUDED this week in the disciplinary hearing of a D.C. firefighter accused of failing to help a dying man who collapsed outside a fire station. What was said is unknown. In fact, it’s unclear whether information from the hearing will ever be made public. That’s because the hearing, like three earlier ones for others implicated in this scandalous case, was closed to the public. The secrecy is further evidence of this troubled department ranking the interests of employees above those of the public.
Top city officials had said there would be complete transparency as they investigated the unconscionable treatment of Medric “Cecil” Mills Jr., the 77-year-old who died of a heart attack after nearby firefighters told bystanders seeking assistance they couldn’t do anything until 911 was called. A spokesman for the fire department said the administration did not object to the proceedings being open but that the authority to do so rested with the respective trial boards. And so in each case — of Kellene Davis, George Martin, David Dennis and Garrett Murphy — the disciplinary panels closed the hearings. Shut out, along with reporters, were members of Mr. Mills’s family, who had been promised answers to what happened Jan. 25. (The administration did release the charging documents.)
Ms. Davis retired before any findings from her trial board could be made public and before any recommendations could be implemented. The three remaining trial board panels will submit recommendations to the fire chief, who can uphold, reduce or dismiss — but not increase — any suggested penalty. Any action taken, a department spokesman told us, would be made public at the discretion of the fire chief.
The only rationale that has been offered for the secrecy is for “the fairness and safety of the participants.” That is ludicrous and insulting to the public. The D.C police seem to have no problem opening their disciplinary proceedings, not to mention the countless civil and criminal trials that are heard every week in this country.
It is difficult to feel confidence in a process conducted in the shadows, especially when the public is excluded from what is so clearly a matter of public safety. As Karen Evans, an attorney for the Mills family, aptly asked: “What’s the secret?”