On Tuesday, the office of Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe sent a press release alerting the media that the D.C. Fire and EMS trial board would hold a hearing Wednesday morning to determine whether the lieutenant involved in the Medric Mills case is guilty or innocent and, if necessary, mete out disciplinary action.
But minutes after the hearing started, the board kicked out the public and the press, citing the safety of all parties involved and a desire to ensure the proceedings for Lt. Kellene Davis were fair.
Davis was the lieutenant in charge of D.C. Fire Department Engine 26 on Rhode Island Avenue NE when Mills, 77, collapsed, and later died, across the street from the station in January. According to a report from the mayor’s office, a person came to the firehouse to tell emergency workers that a man had collapsed outside. The firefighter working the front desk, probationary officer Remy Jones, alerted Davis, but she didn’t answer. The other firefighters in the station didn’t initially respond, either. Ultimately, other emergency workers transported Mills to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Davis is facing six disciplinary charges, including unreasonable failure to give assistance to the public, neglect for duty of public announcement system, and neglect of duty for Violation of the Patient Bill of Rights.
Keith St. Clair, spokesman for Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Paul Quander, says his boss and the fire department had wanted the hearing to be open to the media, though there was always a possibility that the trial board would close it. Tuesday’s press release warned that the “trial board chairperson may close the hearing for cause, making a record of such cause.”
“We’re disappointed the public is not able to view the process,” St. Clair says.
The trial board does, however, have the power to close the hearing, according to its handbook.
The hearing could last until tomorrow, and St. Clair says it could take a week before the board issues its disciplinary recommendation to the the fire chief. Ellerbe can then decide whether he wants to uphold the action or soften it. He is not allowed to impose a stronger penalty, according to St. Clair.
Throughout the morning, firefighters, presumably called as witnesses, exited and entered the hearing room in the Reeves Building on 14th Street NW. Some of them covered their names on their uniforms to shield them from the press. None of them, including Jones, would comment.
Photo by Perry Stein