Seattle settles $162K lawsuit by former 911 manager who cited dispatch concerns
Brian Smith expressed concerns about home addresses being flagged as dangerous for first responders based on potentially erroneous information
By Daniel Beekman
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — The city of Seattle has agreed to pay $162,500 to settle a lawsuit by a former 911 call center manager who said he was wrongly punished for speaking up about problems at work, including a dispatch practice that allegedly contributed to a heart attack death.
Brian Smith, who resigned from his job as administrative manager at Seattle’s Community Safety and Communications Center last August, said he raised concerns about certain home addresses being flagged as dangerous for first responders based on potentially erroneous information about residents. Smith said he objected to the practice before it led medics to wait for a police escort and delay treating a heart attack victim who ultimately died.
Smith filed a claim for damages last September, alleging he was forced to quit after being harassed, suspended and demoted for opposing “decisions that created a public safety risk.” He sued in May and agreed to settle last month.
City Attorney Ann Davison’s office declined to comment on the settlement. Smith referred a request for comment to his attorney, who didn’t respond.
William Yurek died in his Crown Hill home in November 2021 despite his 13-year-old son calling 911 for help. Some homes like Yurek’s are flagged with “caution notes” in Seattle’s 911 dispatch systems, based on previous interactions between responders and residents.
Though the notes are meant to help responders move quickly and protect them from harm, incomplete or outdated notes can cause unnecessary delays and increase the possibility of police violence by needlessly preparing officers for danger, Smith said last December. Residents aren’t informed when their addresses are flagged, and the practice disproportionately puts lower-income people at risk because they have to move more frequently, he said.
Yurek’s family sued the city last year, arguing the flag on Yurek’s home was outdated or a mistake, and arguing the father of three likely would have survived if medics hadn’t waited 13 minutes for their police escort.
“This likely would not have happened had you listened to my concerns,” Smith wrote in a resignation letter to his CSCC boss, Christopher Lombard.
In that letter, Smith also mentioned speaking out about a mishandled 911 outage and a personnel decision by Lombard. In a prior letter, Lombard said Smith was being placed on leave due to “untoward behavior” in a meeting.
In Seattle, 911 calls are answered by the CSCC, which, until mid-2021, was located in the Police Department. Police calls are dispatched directly, while fire and medical calls are relayed to a Fire Department call center.
Responders can ask the call centers to add caution notes to addresses, and the notes pop up when responders are subsequently dispatched to those locations. They mostly involve mundane information about properties, like door codes for apartment buildings. But Smith became worried about the less-common notes that involve information about people, he said.
The Police Department and Fire Department each revised their guidelines for caution notes last year. The Police Department’s guidelines say notes about people can remain in effect from one month to three years. There are 1,574 caution notes for police right now, of which only 57 relate to people, Amy Smith, the CSCC’s deputy director, said this week.
“These could be related to potential public safety threats or response-related info such as dementia, autism or being nonverbal,” she wrote in an email. “We are committed to ensuring hazard information is current and relevant.”
The Fire Department’s guidelines say caution notes about people, activities and materials should expire after a year or get reviewed and renewed, should be verified after every visit, and should be deleted if someone moves away.
Mark Lindquist, an attorney for Yurek’s family, hailed Smith’s settlement and said his clients are grateful to Smith “for doing the right thing.”