Employee sues Michigan psych hospital over unannounced active shooter drill

An employee of Northville Township, Mich.-based Hawthorn Center, a psychiatric children's hospital, is suing the state-run facility after being instructed to portray an active shooter in an unannounced drill held Dec. 21, NBC affiliate WDIV reported May 17.

Patients, and most of the staff, were not told that a drill would be conducted and were "terrified" when an active shooter situation was announced on the loudspeakers, the report said. Police were also not warned beforehand, and 22 police officers rushed to the hospital and donned tactical weapons and heavy gear in response to 911 calls made from inside.

"I couldn’t stop crying, tears rolling down my eyes, I couldn’t stop shaking, I was trembling uncontrollably," an employee told WDIV. "It's created anxiety, trouble sleeping."

Brandon Woodruff, the employee who filed the lawsuit and is Black, and a white male colleague were ordered to pretend to be intruders, the report said. Mr. Woodruff had been instructed to "hold an object" while walking through the building. 

Mr. Woodruff refused to carry the unnamed object, but was afraid of losing his job if he refused the full order, the report said. He and his wife were expecting their first baby.

A panicked-sounding announcement over the loudspeakers said there were active intruders in the building, the report said. A second announcement then said, "two active intruders, one Caucasian male, one African American male, armed with AR 15s, shots fired."

Outside the building, police confronted Mr. Woodruff, who did not know the people in the hospital weren't warned of the drill, the report said. They yelled at him to get down.

Face down on the ground, he used his smartwatch to call his wife so she could hear "the last moments of his life," the report said, citing the lawsuit. After complying with sometimes conflicting orders including raising his shirt and spinning to show he was unarmed, police cuffed his hands behind his back and held him for at least 30 minutes.

Mr. Woodruff has since grappled with anxiety, fear, depression and suicidal ideation, but has been unable to obtain treatment, the report said, citing the lawsuit. He has had to return to work at the Hawthorn Center and said he endures panic and anxiety attacks because of it.

Mr. Woodruff is seeking compensation for injuries, attorney fees, costs of litigation and "any such other relief as the Court may order," according to the lawsuit. He is also seeking an order preventing retaliation against him for filing the lawsuit.

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services released a statement in response to the incident:

"The health and safety of our staff and patients is our top concern. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services understands that our patients, staff and community were affected by the incident in December. We commend our staff who worked quickly to engage law enforcement partners and the responding agencies who worked to resolve the situation. The Joint Commission requires the state psychiatric hospitals conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis at least every two years to identify potential emergencies, including active shooter drills. MDHHS is working with township law enforcement and the Michigan State Police on an improved active intruder training and drill process as part of updating its emergency operations policy."

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