THE DISTRICT first failed Medric “Cecil” Mills Jr. when he was stricken with a heart attack outside a fire station and desperate calls for help went unanswered. The 77-year-old’s death brought promises that officials would find out — and not hide — what happened. But just as the firefighters who couldn’t be bothered to help a dying man failed in their duty, the city has failed to deliver on its promise.
The lack of clear answers about the events of Jan. 25 was underscored by the first public comments from a fire lieutenant who retired after being charged with neglect of duty. Kellene Davis, in an interview with The Post’s Peter Hermann, disputed findings of an investigation by the deputy mayor for public safety and justice that suggested she did not react appropriately when told a man had collapsed across the street from her Northeast fire station. “I don’t want people that don’t know me to think that’s the way I am,” she said.
Ms. Davis’s self-serving comments should be viewed with some skepticism; she waited until disciplinary charges were made moot by her retirement and her $70,000 pension was secure before speaking out. Nonetheless, her version of events only adds to the confusion about what happened and undoubtedly to the pain of Mr. Mills’s family members, who had been promised answers.
The disciplinary hearing against Ms. Davis was held behind closed doors, and it is expected that the upcoming hearings against other firefighters who have been implicated will also be closed. This is in contrast to the Metropolitan Police Department’s general practice of holding public hearings. Adding to the unacceptable secrecy in the Mills’s case is the city’s refusal to release the transcript of Ms. Davis’s proceedings, citing due process issues of those still facing charges.
That the public interest takes a back seat to department and employee prerogatives helps explain why the department has so many problems and why increasingly there is a lack of confidence from D.C. residents. It’s time to lift the veil of secrecy and make the department accountable to the public it is supposed to serve.