Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas called a press conference outside the Loudoun County government building Friday morning to push the county government to be more proactive and transparent responding to her son’s death, which was marked by a chaotic, slow 911 response.
But County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) says the county has already done everything Thomas has asked for.
Standing outside the government center Sept. 3, Thomas alleged outside that her son, Fitz Alexander Campbell Thomas, was still alive when his friends pulled him from the waters of Goose Creek in Confluence Park, near the mouth of the creek at the Potomac River. First responders took more than half an hour to respond to the River Creek neighborhood. In 911 call recordings, dispatchers can be heard passing calls back and forth between Loudoun and Montgomery County, MD, waving off help from the Loudoun side, and seeming not to know Loudoun landmarks and geography.
After an internal investigation and report, fire-rescue officials said many of the problems began when cell phone calls were routed to Montgomery County dispatchers across the river. Loudoun dispatchers did not find out about the incident until 17 minutes after the first call. But even after they did—and being told by frustrated callers that they were on the Loudoun side of the river—Loudoun dispatchers repeatedly transferred callers back to Montgomery County.
A new policy from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government guides fire and rescue departments on both sides of the Potomac to respond incidents on the river.
“This matter should be addressed and should be addressed soon. We shouldn’t have to come up to this Government Center and redress our government to do the right thing,” said Philip Thompson, immediate past Loudoun NAACP president and Thomas’s legal counsel. “We all pay taxes for services. We all expect professional services. And in this case, we know that professionalism was not part of process.”
Thomas said the county government has not been engaging with her family and attorneys in good faith, and has not been transparent about their work to improve 911 responses. And, she said, despite her service to the county in other areas—such as serving on the Heritage Commission and the Soil and Water Conservation District Board—she has been denied a seat at the table.
“We cannot wait for justice. We can’t wait for people in government to feel better about themselves, for their ego to lessen up on them,” Thomas said. “[…] Every one of us will have an occasion, no matter how long we live, no matter what we do, no matter if we’re good, or if we’re bad, if we’re naughty or, if we’re nice, if we’re Black or if we’re white, one thing is true, we’re going to all need 911.”
Thomas said Fitz could have been saved with a prompt 911 response, and that he was alive when he was pulled from the water.
“There’s a lot of disinformation swirling around, it seems to be the lifeblood of what’s going on,” Thomas said. “Now whether that disinformation is CRT, whether that this information is about many of the things that’s going on in Loudoun County, disinformation seems to be the name of the game today. We must clear this up.”
But speaking immediately after the press conference, Randall said Thomas has already gotten all the things she’s asked for.
“One thing she said was she didn’t have quote, a seat at the table, unquote—Pastor Michelle is quite literally on the committee,” Randall said, pointing out Thomas is a member of the E-911 Border Response Workgroup formed by the state in the wake of Fitz’s death.
She also pointed out the Board of Supervisors authorized and funded new positions to staff up the dispatch center, and said she has been in continuous contact with Thomas.
“There is not one thing she’s asked for that she hasn’t got,” Randall said. And she added the county has offered to have an independent medical investigator, chosen by and paid for by both parties review all the records and abide by those findings. She said Thomas turned that offer down.
And, she said, at this point the county is willing to defend itself in court.
“No one wants to go to court, but at this point, the county is willing to do that if that means that all the facts can finally come out,” Randall said. “Because most of the stuff that she’s talking about, the medical things, we don’t have access to those things because they’re HIPPA protected.”
“Every member of our board are parents, every single member, and none of us can possibly imagine what Pastor Michelle and her family are going through,” Randall said. “All of us, the supervisors, fire and rescue, the staff, we continue to send sincere condolences to that family, because what has happened to them is absolutely unimaginable.”
Currently, Thomas said, she hopes for mediation, with a lawsuit also possible. She has previously asked the county for a $20 million settlement, Randall said. She also said the county is not interested in mediation at this point without further fact finding, such as the proposed third-party investigator.
This articles was updated Friday, Sept. 3 at 4:55 p.m.