DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
August 1, 1995 to August 1, 1996
GAY MEN & LESBIANS OPPOSING VIOLENCE
Post Office Box 34622
Washington, D.C. 20043
FIRE DEPARTMENT MISCONDUCT
I. LATIN'S RESPONSE TO HUNTER'S DEATH AND MISTREATMENT DEMONSTRATES A HOMOPHOBIC DISREGARD FOR THE LGBT COMMUNITY
I.A. Fire Department Employee Ridicules and Refuses to Treat the Dying Tyra Hunter
From Tyrone ("Tyra") Hunter's death last August 7, 1995 through the present, the District of Columbia Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services ("Fire Department") and Fire Chief Otis Latin have engaged in a dangerous pattern of homophobic conduct that endangers the life and health of every member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender ("LGBT") community. Despite numerous opportunities to stop this conduct, Latin and his staff have instead consistently demonstrated a callous, homophobic disregard for the dangerous consequences of their actions.
The circumstances surrounding Hunter's death sparked widespread fear in the LGBT community that its members might be mistreated and harassed by the very institution responsible for rendering them emergency medical assistance. Injured in an automobile accident, Hunter died shortly after a firefighter stopped treating her when the firefighter realized that Hunter was a man dressed in women's clothes. Rather than assisting Hunter as she lay dying, the firefighter harassed her by making homophobic jokes to his fellow firefighters.
Since Hunter's death that day, the organization Gay Men & Lesbians Opposing Violence ("GLOV"), in coalition with other community organizations, began advocating for comprehensive measures, including instituting a sensitivity training and disciplining Hunter's tormentor, to ensure that Fire Department homophobia not place more lives at risk. In this connection, GLOV has monitored Latin's response to Hunter's death to determine whether he will seriously and sincerely address this dangerous problem. This report will document an unbroken chain of homophobia, coverup, misrepresentations and broken promises by the Fire Department and Latin from Hunter's death to the present.
As documented fully in the pages below, Latin misrepresented the nature of the evidence identifying Hunter's tormentor, misled the LGBT community regarding the nature of past Fire Department sensitivity trainings, and continually broke promises to institute a sensitivity training that would ensure that Fire Department personnel perform their functions competently and professionally. By this course of conduct, Latin sent a clear signal to his personnel that, as far as he is concerned, they may mistreat LGBT people with impunity. As a result, Fire Department personnel felt at liberty to express their homophobia by not treating the victim of a gay-bashing in Dupont Circle on July 1, 1996. Latin's response to this new Fire Department malfeasance showed, once again, that when LGBT lives are at stake, he simply will not provide leadership.
To the extent Latin has taken any action to eliminate homophobia, it has only been under duress. From Hunter's death to the present, Latin has continually failed to respond on his own volition to charges of life-threatening homophobia in his department and has consistently permitted his staff to cover up misconduct. In each and every instance, Latin took corrective action only after community activists called attention to the coverups and only after Mayor Marion Barry became involved. Latin's obstructionist, irresponsible behavior demonstrates that, without continued community scrutiny and the Mayor's supervision, Latin will continue to sanction dangerous, homophobic conduct. Accordingly, it is now time for the Mayor to review this key political appointment to determine whether Latin is fit to fulfill his obligations to protect the lives and health of the LGBT community.
While GLOV's traditional mission has been to document and combat anti-LGBT hate crimes in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, after Hunter's death, GLOV expanded its mission to include ensuring that LGBT victims of violence are provided with appropriate medical assistance by government institutions responsible for administering such assistance.
GLOV has developed significant expertise in addressing government institutional homophobia through GLOV's advocacy on behalf of hate crime victims with police agencies and through the sensitivity training that GLOV provides the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") twice weekly. GLOV's activities include:
1. maintaining a phone line seven days a week to receive reports from the victims of hate crimes to document the crimes;
2. providing advocacy for survivors of hate crimes;
3. serving as a liaison with the MPD, the United States Attorney, the United States Park Police, and other local police agencies;
4. conducting sensitivity training two days a week for all MPD personnel on LGBT issues;
5. representing the LGBT community on the Police Chief Citizen's Advisory Council;
6. producing an annual report on hate crimes committed in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area;
7. conducting street safety workshops and distributing whistles and safety information; and
8. promoting forums on hate crimes.
I. LATIN'S RESPONSE TO HUNTER'S DEATH AND MISTREATMENT DEMONSTRATES A HOMOPHOBIC DISREGARD FOR THE LGBT COMMUNITY
A. Fire Department Employee Ridicules and Refuses to Treat the Dying Tyra Hunter
It is undisputed that a Fire Department First Responder ridiculed Tyra Hunter and stopped providing her medical treatment when he discovered that Hunter was a man dressed in women's clothing. On August 7, 1995, Hunter was injured in a car accident at the corner of 50th Street and C Street, S.E. When Fire Department "First Responders" arrived at the scene, Hunter was lying on the grass bleeding. According to four neighborhood witnesses, one First Responder then began cutting open Hunter's pants and stopped treating Hunter when he discovered that Hunter was a man and not a woman. According to Catherine Poole, the "pants-cutter" said, "This Bitch ain't no girl, it's a nigger. . . ." In addition to three other neighborhood witnesses who corroborated Poole's statement, an EMS supervisor also heard the remarks which he considered to be
"inflammatory, inappropriate, unprofessional, a form of Homo-phobia[sic], and sexist remarks. The comments were relative to the patients gender and sexual orientation, because the patient appeared to be female. The remark was something to the effect, that ain't no woman, that's a man. The bitch got a dick and balls."
The Supervisor also wrote that Hunter was conscious during this harassment. All four neighborhood witnesses agreed that it was the pants-cutter who made the remark and that the pants-cutter stopped treating Hunter until a supervisor arrived on the scene.
Although there is conflicting testimony whether other Fire Department and EMS personnel similarly withheld medical services, there is no evidence to contradict the statements of the neighborhood witnesses that the "pants-cutter" stopped treatment. Instead of helping Hunter, the pants-cutter made jokes and laughed with his partner. Hunter died shortly thereafter in the hospital.
Latin's response to Hunter's harassment during her dying moments exhibited a callous disregard for Hunter's life. As will be shown below, Latin never intended to discipline Hunter's tormentor, for Latin conducted a sham investigation into Fire Department misconduct and then misled the public regarding the quantity and quality of the evidence identifying Hunter's tormentor. Based on witness statements that GLOV obtained from Fire Department files, it is now clear that, at the time Latin closed the investigation by announcing that there was not enough evidence to identify Hunter's tormentor, Latin in fact knew the identity of the pants-cutter and had in his own files statements from four witnesses who identified the pants-cutter as the person who had mistreated Hunter.
To any reasonable person, this evidence would have been sufficient to identify the wrongdoer. Thus, it defies credibility that Latin could honestly state he was unable to identify the wrongdoer. Under these circumstances, Latin's closure of the investigation can be interpreted in only two ways. At best, Latin was not competent to understand the evidence before him. At worst, he lied regarding the nature of the evidence. Once Latin realized that the public would not view the evidence the same unreasonable way that he had viewed it, Latin reopened the investigation but delayed identifying the perpetrator until Mayor Barry ordered the investigation to be closed after Hunter's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit three months later.
GLOV's suspicions regarding Latin's competence and/or veracity were first aroused when, eleven days after Hunter's death, Latin called a press conference to announce that the Fire Department was unable to identify Hunter's harasser. In his press release, Latin admitted only that "an unprofessional comment" was made and asserted that he was unable to "determine with clarity the source of the comment. Latin further refused to address the eyewitness testimony that the pants-cutter had stopped treatment.
In light of the number of witnesses to the incident, many of whom were interviewed on television, Latin's assertion that there was not enough evidence to identify the perpetrator, not only defied belief, but proclaimed a coverup. To examine the credibility of Latin's assertion, GLOV filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") on September 8, 1995 seeking Fire Department files relating to its internal investigation of the conduct surrounding Hunter's death. The Fire Department files revealed that the Fire Department had gathered statements from four witnesses who all explicitly identified the same person, the pants-cutter, as the perpetrator.
It then began to surface in the media that the Fire Department knew the identity of the pants-cutter. Confidential GLOV and Washington Blade sources stated that Adrian Williams confessed during a meeting with Fire Department investigators that he was the one who cut open Hunter's pants. According to one confidential Washington Blade source, the "word about Williams making the disparaging remarks has been circulating throughout many firefighter and paramedic units."
Once it determined that the Fire Department knew the identity of the wrongdoer but nevertheless would not discipline him, GLOV was compelled to appeal to Mayor Barry requesting that the investigation be reopened. Shortly thereafter, on December 1, 1995, GLOV and other community representatives met with Latin to determine why the Fire Department had terminated its investigation so abruptly when its very own files clearly pointed to one person as having engaged in grossly improper conduct.
At that December 1, 1995 meeting, despite his prior public announcement that he was unable to identify the wrongdoer, Latin made the astonishing confession that he and Fire Department officials had known the identity of the pants-cutter all along. However, Latin persisted, contrary to the statements of four witnesses, in asserting his unsubstantiated, discredited belief that the pants-cutter had not made the statements. Latin further admitted that, in conducting the investigation, rather than individually questioning the sixteen fire fighters who had been at the scene of Hunter's mistreatment, the Fire Department instead gathered all sixteen firefighters into one room and then asked the perpetrator to volunteer his identity. Obviously, the circumstances of such a meeting were not calculated to encourage truthfulness.
Now that the public and the Mayor were aware that he had misled them, Latin reopened the investigation on December 3, 1995. However, Latin still managed to avoid disciplining the wrongdoer by delaying the investigation for almost three more months. On February 22, 1996, Mayor Barry ordered the investigation be closed because Hunter's mother had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. Thus, in the end, the Fire Department succeeded in avoiding disciplining its personnel.
As it was becoming clear that Latin had no intention of punishing Hunter's tormentor, it also became clear that he never intended to fulfill a promise to institute a sensitivity training. The request for a training was similarly met with misstatements and broken promises by Latin. It took GLOV seven months of negotiations and two appeals to Mayor Barry before Latin realized that everyone except for him understood that the Fire Department had a serious problem with homophobia and that it was imperative that he institute a meaningful sensitivity training.
From the very beginning, Latin misled the LGBT community by asserting that the Fire Department already had held trainings in the past that adequately addressed homophobia. Nevertheless, in response to GLOV's FOIA request, Fire Department Chief Alvin Carter wrote that the Fire Department did not even have a curriculum or manual for the Fire Department's alleged sensitivity training. Moreover, at the August 18, 1995 meeting and at a press conference held the same day, Latin made two promises that he later broke: He promised that future trainings would be designed with input from the LGBT community and that he would require all Fire Department personnel to attend a new training that September.
Nevertheless, it soon came to the LGBT community's attention that Latin had hired a training facilitator without input from the LGBT community and that the September department-wide training appeared to have been aborted. After GLOV learned that a training still was not in place, GLOV secured another promise from Latin on October23, 1995 that the Fire Department and GLOV would work to seek a solution to a sensitivity training. It soon became apparent, however, that this was yet another transparent attempt by Latin to placate the LGBT community without actually providing a training because the Fire Department proceeded to stonewall GLOV for almost four more months. During that time, GLOV attempted unsuccessfully to meet with Fire Department personnel and to attend one of the Fire Department's alleged trainings. GLOV later learned that trainings were still not taking place at the Fire Department.
Once again, GLOV was compelled to bring the matter to the Mayor's attention. Only after Mayor Barry's staff was notified of continued Fire Department obstructions did Latin agree to meet with GLOV to discuss the institution of a meaningful training. Before the meeting took place, Mayor Barry held a town hall meeting on February 22, 1996 at which Mayor Barry publicly required Latin to acknowledge that the Mayor had spoken to him about a training and the investigation into Hunter's death. The subtext beneath their town meeting exchange appeared to be a message from the Mayor to Latin that the Mayor expected Latin to handle the problem.
After the town hall meeting, Darryl Cooper and David Schwartz from GLOV, Mary Jane DeFrank from the ACLU, and Jessica Xavier from Transgender Nation met with Latin and Ayo Bryant, Director of the Mayor's Office of Diversity, to discuss a sensitivity training. Finally, faced with pressure from the community and apparently the Mayor, Latin belatedly agreed to take steps to address Fire Department homophobia. At the February 27, 1996 meeting, Latin agreed that the Fire Department would institute a mandatory eight-hour diversity and sensitivity training that would address not only issues affecting the LGBT community but also issues affecting other minority communities in Washington, including, among others, the Latino and Asian communities. This training would attempt to ensure that any prejudices of Fire Department personnel would not interfere with their ability to render assistance to members of any Washington minority community.
Although Latin had grudgingly agreed to a training, his recalcitrance sent a message to his personnel that he was unconcerned with homophobia. The Fire Department's recent failure to render medical assistance to a gay man and Latin's failure to investigate promptly this failure demonstrate that homophobia is as great a problem today in the Fire Department as it was the day Hunter died.
On July 1, 1996, in the center of Dupont Circle, Loron Lavoie was attacked by a gay-basher who, while shouting homophobic epithets, gashed Lavoie's head and leg open with a six foot flag pole and a broken bottle. Although Lavoie's wounds were so severe that they later required twenty-nine stitches to close at the hospital, the Fire Department First Responders who responded to the scene, when they saw that Lavoie was bleeding from his head down his shirt and all over his pants, refused to examine, clean and bandage his wounds. Instead, they handed Lavoie some bandages and told him to put them on himself.
After refusing to treat Lavoie, the First Responders then discouraged Lavoie and his partner Ken Ludden from waiting for the ambulance, telling them the ambulance was on its way but might take a long time to arrive. As a result, Lavoie and Ludden were required to walk to George Washington hospital because no taxi would stop to pick up a bleeding passenger. There is reason to believe that the First Responders never called an ambulance but lied to Lavoie and Ludden that an ambulance had been called. According to the Washington Blade, 911 records show that an ambulance was never dispatched to Dupont Circle.
In response to allegations that the Fire Department refused to treat Lavoie, Latin and the Fire Department again showed a callous disregard for gay lives. As with the Hunter investigation and the sensitivity training, Fire Department officers repeated their pattern of nonresponsiveness. Again, Latin demonstrated that his word cannot be trusted: Although Latin assured GLOV that he would investigate Lavoie's mistreatment, he permitted weeks to pass by without even ordering his investigators to take statements from the two victims. It was only after this malfeasance was brought to the attention of the Mayor and the media that a Fire Department investigator was even directed to take statements from the victims.
If Latin truly intended to investigate Lavoie's mistreatment, the first step should have been to take statements from the victims. Ludden and Lavoie first made a written complaint to the Fire Department on July 9, 1996. The next day, Latin assured GLOV that the complaint would be investigated. Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that an investigation was not taking place.
At a July 15, 1996 meeting with neighborhood residents concerned about the Fire Department's continued failure to meet its duty of care, Fire Department spokesman Chief Alvin Carter stated that Ludden and Lavoie had not been interviewed by Fire Department investigators responsible for investigating their mistreatment. Carter then proceeded to display unmitigated contempt for Ken Ludden, one of the victims of Fire Department mistreatment present at the meeting, by stating that it is sometimes better for injured people to bandage themselves and to preserve city resources by taking themselves to the hospital. Carter never apologized for Lavoie's mistreatment and did not condemn the homophobia of the firefighters responsible.
By July 23, 1996, when it became clear that, even after a one-year dialogue with Latin, GLOV still could not trust Latin to keep his word, GLOV was compelled to bring the matter to the Mayor's attention by sending him a copy of a letter demanding that Latin conduct a thorough investigation. Two days later, on July 25, 1996, the evening television news broadcast that Latin refused to discuss the incident with concerned community activists and that the Fire Department had failed to interview Ludden and Lavoie. Only then, that same evening, after the story had been brought to the media and the Mayor's attention, did a Fire Department investigator contact Ludden and Lavoie at their homes to arrange to interview them about their mistreatment.
Latin's conduct continues to endanger the lives and health of members of the LGBT community. Latin has not understood, for whatever reason, the risks posed by homophobia within an institution responsible for rendering emergency medical assistance. His failure to understand the problem, coupled with his failure to take action, increases the risk that dangerous homophobic conduct will recur in the future.
Latin has continually failed to take any remedial action of his own volition. In the regard, since Hunter's death, Latin did not take a single affirmative action without pressure from the community and direction from the Mayor's office. Moreover, Latin could not be trusted to fulfill any of his promises without close supervision from the Mayor's office and constant public scrutiny.
Based on GLOV's experience with MPD, it is crucial that top officials of institutions such as the Fire Department-- where personnel take cues from commanding officers-- unequivocally condemn, verbally and through their own conduct, homophobic behavior. Without this message from the top, even a comprehensive sensitivity training cannot effectively create positive institutional change. In Latin's case, by taking measures to combat homophobia only after outside pressures (from the Mayor's office and the LGBT activists) compelled him to do so, Latin has sent a message to his personnel that it is the outside pressures, and not Latin, who oppose homophobia. As a result, Latin's conduct encourages Fire Department personnel to believe that it is permissible for them to exhibit homophobia, along with any other prejudices they may have, while responding to emergency calls.
Because Latin has demonstrated that he is unwilling to combat homophobia, it is now time for the mayor to take appropriate action to protect the lives of LGBT citizens. The LGBT community, like all other communities in this city, is entitled to a fire chief who will fulfill his responsibility to protect it. In the course of the past year, Mayor Barry has declared that he will not tolerate homophobia by his government. GLOV and the LGBT community now request that the mayor hold his department heads to this standard of leadership.