Slain Journalist's Family Files $20 Million Lawsuit

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The children of slain New York Times reporter David E. Rosenbaum filed a $20 million lawsuit yesterday against the District and Howard University Hospital, claiming that their father was a victim of official negligence and medical malpractice.

Filed in D.C. Superior Court, the lawsuit comes less than a month after a jury convicted a 42-year-old man of murdering Rosenbaum during a robbery. The other suspect in the case had pleaded guilty shortly before the two were to go on trial.

The crime occurred on a quiet Northwest Washington street in a usually safe part of the city, stunning the neighborhood and many people who had known Rosenbaum. He was 63 and had just retired after three decades at the Times. Days later, questions surfaced about the emergency care he received at the scene on Gramercy Street and at Howard University Hospital, where he died Jan. 8, two days after the attack.

Those questions led to one damning revelation after another. Rosenbaum was misdiagnosed as a drunk. The ambulance bypassed the closest hospital because one of the emergency medical technicians had personal business to attend to near Howard. At Howard, Rosenbaum was not seen by a physician for more than 90 minutes and was not given a neurological evaluation until he had been there almost four hours, the lawsuit says. Daniel and Dorothy Rosenbaum say in their suit that these actions contributed to their father's death.

"If any one of them had done their job properly, this wouldn't have happened and he'd be alive," Patrick Regan, the lead attorney for the family, said yesterday during a news conference.

A spokeswoman for the D.C. attorney general said city lawyers are reviewing the suit, and a spokeswoman for Howard University Hospital did not respond to a call seeking comment.

The District's handling of the case has drawn rebukes from city leaders, including Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty (D), who met last week with the family and pledged yesterday to fix the problems highlighted by Rosenbaum's death.

"Every District resident deserves to be safe and protected by our police and emergency personnel," Fenty said, adding that he would support efforts by the police, fire and emergency medical service "to hold personnel accountable in all areas of performance."

The D.C. inspector general's office, in a report released in the summer, found what it called "apathy, indifference and complacency" in the agencies involved.

Family members were particularly disturbed by the failings of the police department.

More than a month before Rosenbaum was attacked, a retired police officer doing renovation work on a townhouse in Southeast Washington was attacked. But the police did not treat the beating as a crime and did not follow up on a promising lead -- calls made on the victim's cellphone soon after it was taken from him in the attack.

Officials learned later that the calls were made to the houses of the two men ultimately convicted of killing Rosenbaum: Percey Jordan, who was found guilty by a jury last month, and his cousin, Michael Hamlin, who pleaded guilty in September.

When Jordan was arrested in connection with Rosenbaum's death, the victim of the earlier robbery realized that he had been attacked by the same man.

Rosenbaum's family members said their suit is about changing the culture that led to the series of errors.

"Things are broken in the city," Marcus Rosenbaum, Rosenbaum's brother, said yesterday. "They are broken in Howard University Hospital. And something needs to be done to see that they get fixed."

He said that monetary damages are a means to that end: "When you sue, all you can sue for is money, and we wanted to get people's attention."

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