Selena Walker, the D.C. emergency medical technician who decided to take a gravely injured man to a distant hospital so she could run some errands afterward, was fired illegally by the city, the District’s high court ruled today [PDF].
That man was David Rosenbaum, the New York Times reporter who was assaulted on a Chevy Chase street in January 2006 and later died of his injuries. City medics initially diagnosed Rosenbaum, 63, as being drunk, and Walker, according to the findings of a inspector general’s investigation, chose to take him to Howard University Hospital rather than the much closer Sibley Memorial Hospital. She told her crewmate that was “because she needed to run her errands in that neighborhood, including going to the ATM and going by her house.” The delay in his care, among other medic errors, contributed to his death.
After the investigation wrapped up in June 2006, the city moved to fire Walker. But it was already too late, it turns out.
The court today upheld an earlier administrative ruling that Walker’s firing had violated city rules that place a 90-business-day limit on how long officials can wait after they “knew or should have known of the act or occurrence allegedly constituting cause” for a reprimand or firing.
According to the administrative judge and now a three-judge D.C. Court of Appeals panel, that 90-day period should have began when it was first alleged that Walker had broken department rules by directing the ambulance to go to Howard rather than Sibley. That happened in a round of initial interviews on Jan. 18, 2006, meaning that the city had until May 26 of that year to fire Walker. Instead, Walker wasn’t fired until June 16, the day after the IG report was released.
The city argued that because there were some inconsistencies in those initial statements of Walker and another person in her ambulance crew, the 90-day rule should not have kicked in until the investigation’s conclusion. But Senior Judge William C. Pryor found that “there is no substantial conflict between the respective statements” and thus the 90-day window began well before that.
Pryor wrote that the D.C. Council “has consistently articulated a policy of expeditious handling of adverse actions” and that it “did not intend that an agency should embark, free of any deadline, on an investigative period.”
Attorney General Peter Nickles reacted to the ruling this afternoon in an interview with NewsChannel 8’s Bruce DePuyt. “This is a very disappointing case,” he said. “Our view was, when a individual is dissembling…we should only take action when we gathered all the facts. We’ll fight back, but this was a setback.”
Nickles added that the ruling “may be the last word on this matter” but he hinted that some fix for future circumstances may be in the offing.