By Sam P.K. Collins
Months after laying her father to rest, Aujah Griffin continues to demand answers about the events leading up to his deadly dive into the Washington Channel and what caused delays in the 911 response on the evening of March 14.
By the time David Earl Griffin jumped into the Washington Channel near Maine Avenue in Southwest, 911 dispatchers received calls about a man erratically running through the Southwest Waterfront, supposedly under the influence of drugs. Medical personnel arrived at the scene 30 minutes later, but not before going to the wrong location.
Upon his arrival to the hospital, Griffin soon died from his injuries and Aujah Griffin received a phone call from authorities shortly after. She said she would later learn about what she described as the 911 dispatcher’s lack of urgency about her father’s condition and confusion about his exact location.
“The dispatcher didn’t take it seriously. I felt that way from the beginning and I feel that way now,” Griffin said. “When the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) put out a synopsis of what happened, they left out parts.”
“They didn’t speak on why it took so long to update the address. They said it wasn’t a Priority One call but a Priority One call is when someone is in danger. My father put himself and others in danger so I don’t understand why they didn’t escalate it,” she said.
In April, Griffin filed a notice of pending action that allows her up to two years to file a wrongful death suit against OUC. While OUC Director Karima Holmes reached out to Griffin earlier that month, Griffin said she hasn’t heard from her since.
In the last account of Griffin’s death that OUC shared on March 29, Holmes denied any delay in service provided by OUC and said the 911 dispatcher properly classified the call as a 10-33 [emergency – all units stand by] at its inception.
However, an investigation conducted by former television and news reporter David Statter found that the dispatcher failed to relay accurate and crucial information to police officers. This in turn caused the officers to remain at the wrong address four minutes before Griffin’s dive into the Washington Channel.
Other findings highlighted the 911 dispatcher’s delay in communicating the urgency in Griffin’s condition, as expressed by emergency medical personnel that arrived at the Washington Channel. Such communication, Statter said, would have triggered a quicker police response.
In June, during a community conversation at First Baptist Church in Northwest, Holmes said OUC has made advances in deciphering the level of service needed during a call and dispatching officers and medical personnel to correct addresses. In making her explanation, Holmes, appointed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in February, pointed out that other U.S. cities have faced similar emergency response issues.
“We have done a better job with our training so that [dispatchers] can repeat [the address] and have you repeat it to get it right,” Holmes said on June 14. “The technology isn’t perfect but it tells us the area to help us pinpoint and help you ask [for the address]. Most of us don’t know the address when we call 911. With the proliferation of cell phones, it takes a minute to find where you are.”
In February, a 911 dispatcher did not use in-house GPS technology to catch the mistake of a frantic caller who gave the wrong address at the scene of a shooting. That snafu caused an 11-minute delay in the arrival of medical personnel. A month later, another 911 dispatcher took a leave of absence after entering the wrong address and delaying the response to a call involving a dead woman.
Taalib Saber, the attorney representing Griffin, said delayed 911 responses count as part of a larger problem between law enforcement and Black people, not only in the District, but across the country. That’s why he has expressed plans to take Griffin’s case before the United Nations and, in collaboration with activists, put pressure on the U.S. government to challenge qualified immunity – a mechanism that protects police officers and other public servants from civil suits and other accountability measures.
“It’s about putting pressure on the United Nations and international bodies to come down on the U.S. for these archaic laws,” Saber said. “The plan is to continue pushing this and letting people know that we don’t have to take this. Why does a family have to suffer because of laws that make it difficult to seek justice for their father?”
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