WASHINGTON — EDITOR'S NOTE: In the video above the 911 agency is misidentified as the District's Office of United Communications. The agency's proper name is the District's Office of Unified Communications.
Last week, a father and grandfather in crisis died in the Washington Channel while EMTs struggled to get him under control.
911 calls show a possible 30-minute delay in getting police on the scene to help and the man's family believes his death could have been prevented.
When the first call went out to help David Earl Griffin it was considered a drug overdose and not a top priority call.
"He's hurting himself, we can't contain him," an EMT can be heard saying on scanner recordings.
As the 47-year-old Griffin started running through the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, EMTs called for backup from the police.
"Do we have MPD respond? Standby."
And called again.
"... MPD again ... they have not arrived on the scene."
Then nearly 30 minutes after the first 911 call, Griffin went into the Washington Channel and drowned.
"You know, he was a great, a great person overall," said Griffin's daughter, Aujah Griffin. "He had his flaws. But you know ... he would help anyone and I mean anyone in crisis."
Griffin's family believes if the EMTs had help from the police sooner, their father could still be alive.
"This could have been prevented. This could have been potentially de-escalated a long time ago," Aujah Griffin said.
MPD confirms its officers were dispatched to 4th and N Streets Southwest. But, that was not where they were needed.
MPD says the District's Office of Unified Communications - 911 - gave them the wrong location. Witness pointed officers to the scene and MPD says after dispatchers did elevate the call to a top priority, water patrol was there in just one minute.
But it was too late.
"It was a really odd event," said Karen O'Donnell who lives in the neighborhood and, along with her neighbors, watched the situation unfold.
"The oddest thing I remember noticing that night was that I never saw any of the police cars until he had actually gone into the river," said O'Donnell.
Griffin's daughter works as a social worker and says her father did struggle with drugs, but what he needed was help.
"I've never been one to excuse my father's behaviors," she said. "But at the same time, when someone's in crisis, they're in crisis. And you know, there's a certain expectation when you hold a certain position to do certain things and to make sure that they get the help that they need. And that didn't happen."
The Office of Unified Communication has come under scrutiny before.
OUC said in a statement to WUSA9 the dispatcher and supervisors are reviewing how they could have handled the call better.
The full statement reads:
The Office of Unified Communications (OUC) has completed its investigation regarding the response to the drowning incident that occurred on March 14th in the Washington Channel. On that evening, OUC received several 911 calls and based on the information given, the calls were appropriately classified as a Priority 2.
The on-duty police dispatcher repeatedly voiced the call but unfortunately no officers were available for immediate dispatch due to the volume of higher priority calls. It’s important to note that as the event escalated and fire crews ultimately called a 10-33, (a distress call due to the patient acting erratically), the call was immediately upgraded and police officers arrived in less than a minute.
As a result of the investigation, the police dispatcher involved and the supervisory staff on duty that evening have been counseled to review how this might have been handled better (i.e. the policy of raising an official to assist with dispatch coordination if there is a DC Fire and EMS request for support from the police).
The Office of Unified Communications is, and always will remain firmly committed to serving District residents and fulfilling its role in coordinating the most appropriate responses to all the city's 911 calls.
6th Ward Council Member Charles Allen has called for a full investigation.
"Something has to be done. I want answers. I want accountability," Aujah Griffin said.