A panel deciding whether one of several D.C. firefighters accused of failing to help a dying man near a fire station in January should be disciplined barred the public from attending a hearing Tuesday.
It is the second such hearing that has been held behind closed doors, despite assurances from top city officials that the investigation into the death of Medric “Cecil” Mills Jr., 77, would be transparent. Hearings for two additional firefighters are scheduled for Friday and next Wednesday.
The proceedings could result in the firefighters losing their jobs as part of the continued fallout stemming from the case. Mills collapsed of an apparent heart attack Jan. 25 and later died. Bystanders’ attempts to get help from the Northeast fire station, which was down the street, were rebuffed by firefighters, who told them that 911 had to be called first.
For several months, District officials have been trying to piece together what happened inside the Truck 15 station on Rhode Island Avenue. An internal report suggested widespread dysfunction and indifference, with one firefighter retiring to his bunk to read instead of helping Mills.
Tuesday’s hearing was for firefighter George Martin, a 12-year veteran. Administrative charging documents accuse Martin of doing nothing even after being told by two other firefighters that a man outside the station needed help. He is charged with neglect of duty and misconduct.
“Martin showed virtually no concern for this patient,” the charging papers say. “Rather than initiate or make any attempt to initiate a response, Martin did absolutely nothing.”
In those same documents, Martin told investigators that he knew only that a cadet was looking for the station’s lieutenant and not that bystanders were seeking help at the front door. Martin’s attorney, Philip Andonian, has not returned repeated calls to his office seeking comment.
At Tuesday’s hearing, called a trial board, the chairman immediately said that the public would not be allowed inside. “This will be a closed hearing,” Battalion Fire Chief Leroy Cade said.
District officials have said they would prefer that the hearings be open but that the decision rests solely with the trial board, an independent arbitrator.
Karen Evans, the attorney for the Mills family, repeated her criticism of the disciplinary panel’s decision. “The secrecy of these hearings is unacceptable, particularly given the public safety concerns raised by the handling of Medric Cecil Mills’ emergency and his resultant death,” she said.
On Friday, four employees of the District’s 911 call center, the Office of Unified Communications, were disciplined for their role in failing to get Mills help. A lead dispatcher was suspended for 10 days, two radio operators for three days and a call-taker for three days, all without pay, according to a spokeswoman for the office.
Officials have said that when a call was finally dispatched, an operator sent the ambulance to the wrong address — a corresponding location in Northwest instead of in Northeast.
As a result, it was only when an officer flagged down a passing ambulance that Mills got to a hospital. He died a short time later.