WASHINGTON - FOX 5 has learned a D.C. firefighter charged with neglect of duty when a call came in about a child choking on grapes has been found guilty of at least one of the charges filed against him in connection to the March 2015 incident, according to sources familiar with the decision made by an internal review trial board.
We asked the fire department on Thursday what discipline D.C. Fire Lieutenant Guy Valentine, who is now conditionally retired, may be facing, but we were told it is a personnel matter and the department would not comment.
It is a confusing response given the fact FOX 5 was permitted to sit in on the trial – a first in the history of the department – and listen to the evidence. But now, we are being told we are not allowed to learn of the verdict or how Valentine will be punished.
At his trial board held in February, Lt. Valentine was a no-show. Instead, Valentine’s attorney handled his defense as Jose Cuesta and his attorney looked on.
Cuesta lost his son Martin last year when the toddler choked on grapes being fed to him by his nanny. It was early in the morning and the toddler was in their house on Warren Street just three blocks from the Tenleytown fire station.
When the call went out about the medical emergency, the firefighters inside the station never responded, in part because of a 911 dispatch glitch along a fire lieutenant, who according to investigators, heard the call go out for the choking child but failed to take the call.
According to a report filed in the case, when Lt. Valentine was asked if he had a responsibility to take the call and possibly save the life of an 18-month-old child, he said, "Not if I'm not dispatched.”
The report goes on to say, "Lieutenant Valentine, by his own admission, did not know the address of 4246 Warren St. NW was three blocks away from his firehouse … Lieutenant Valentine … knew there were problems with the tablet system that could have caused his unit not to be dispatched.”
This is a report that infuriated the Jose Cuesta when we talked to him back in January.
"I want Mr. Valentine to know that I think of him every single day because he could have saved my son just doing his job,” Cuesta said at the time.
On Thursday, Cuesta's attorney, Sal Zambri, confirmed the trial board’s verdict, but said they are still seeking more information.
“We understand there has been a finding of guilty as well,” said Zambri. “The reaction that my client has and I have is that is good news. We don't know the charges yet to which he has been found guilty. We are interested in knowing that of course and we expect also that he is going to be fined to the fullest extent under the law. In fact, we think the law is inadequate.”
Under the law, a firefighter who retires while under investigation is considered conditionally retired, and if found guilty of the charges can be fined up to $5,000.
We reached out multiple times over the last two days to Valentine’s attorney, but he has not responded to our request for comment.