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Family of Washington, D.C., Man Who Drowned During Mental Health Crisis Files Lawsuit

— March 22, 2024

The lawsuit alleges that Washington’s emergency dispatch service caused or contributed to David Earl Griffin’s death by misreading the severity of the situation and thereby delaying a law enforcement response.

The family of David Earl Griffin—who died after jumping into the Washington Channel in March of 2022—has filed a lawsuit against the D.C. Office of Unified Communications, claiming that its operators impeded an effective emergency response by misreading the severity of the situation.

According to WTOP News, the 47-year-old man died on March 14, 2022, after a half-hour-long confrontation with ambulance crews. Griffin was, at the time, experiencing a mental health crisis in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

“As many as 10 calls were made to 9-1-1 within an approximate four minute time span, describing Mr. Griffin’s behavior and reporting that he was yelling, jumping on cars, and scaring bystanders,” says the lawsuit.

A dispatcher for the D.C. Office of Unified Communications purportedly coded incoming 9-1-1- calls about Griffin as an “overdose situation” warranting a “Priority 2” response—meaning that “the response from emergency responders would be far more delayed than the response would be for a Priority 1 call.”

As ambulance crews continued trying to engage Griffin, an EMT called a “10-33,” indicating that “they were in imminent danger.”

Blue and red police lights; image by Scott Rodgerson, via
Blue and red police lights; image by Scott Rodgerson, via

“Mr. Griffin was in crisis. Yet police did not even receive the call for about 22 minutes and did not response for at least 30 minutes, an unconscionable delay in response due to the emergency dispatcher’s incorrect classification of the call as a drug overdose warranting a Priority 2 response,” the lawsuit alleges. “That response was inconceivably delayed even further by the emergency dispatcher’s failure to report to police officers the change in location the EMT personnel had reported when EMTs called dispatch pleading for assistance.”

“As a result of these failures,” the complaint alleges, “Mr. Griffin died.”

Cary J. Hansel, an attorney for Griffin’s daughter—Aujah Griffin—said that the delay contributed to Griffin’s preventable death.

“Had police officers arrived on-scene before Mr. Griffin jumped into the Washington Channel, those officers would have been able to assist in controlling Mr. Griffin, preventing Mr. Griffin from jumping into the channel and avoiding his death,” Hansel said.

The lawsuit, notes The Washington Post, names both the D.C. Office of Unified Communications and the mayor of Washington, D.C., as defendants.

“Mr. Griffin was gregarious, fun to be around, and had a strong sense of self and morality that guided him through life,” Hansel said in a statement. “Mr. Griffin’s death was a tragedy which resulted directly from the city’s years-long and continuing failures to operate a functioning 9-1-1 system or provide alternative interventions for those in mental health crisis.”

The Griffin family is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages, with Hansel saying that “any reasonable award in this case would be in the seven-figure range.”


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