DC fire lieutenant to retire; will face no discipline in emergency response to choking toddler

FOX 5's Paul Wagner reports.

- Six months after a D.C. fire lieutenant was charged with neglect of duty in a delayed response to a choking toddler who later died, FOX 5 has learned he has not been disciplined and has chosen to retire.

This new development has deeply angered the baby's father.

Two sources familiar with the process say Lt. Guy Valentine put in his retirement papers around the holidays. Despite facing three different charges in connection with the delayed response to the choking toddler, he has not gone before an internal trial board and no date has been set for one.

A D.C. Fire and EMS spokesperson has confirmed Valentine filed his retirement papers in December and it appears he will be able to leave the department without facing any discipline.

On March 18 in a house on Warren Street in Northwest D.C., 18-month-old Martin Cuesta began choking on some grapes being fed to him by his nanny. Calls were placed to 911, but it took nearly eleven minutes for help to arrive, in part, because investigators say a lieutenant assigned to the Tenleytown station three blocks from the house heard the call go out, but failed to respond.

According to a report, the lieutenant told investigators he didn't respond because dispatchers did not put his engine on the call and he was unaware the house was three blocks away.

On Monday, more than ten months after losing his son, Jose Cuesta sat in his lawyer’s office knowing little more than he did when charges were first filed against the lieutenant last summer.

"When I heard, I am extremely upset and very disappointed that there is a lack of responsibility and accountability,” he said. “Just the possibility that he can get away with this without any proper disciplinary action sickens me.”

According to the report--the lieutenant’s engine was not placed on the call because a new communication tablet lost contact with the 911 center, which did not know that the engine and an ambulance were in the station, in service and ready to respond.

Despite that, Valentine was charged because investigators say he heard the call go out and failed to respond.

“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,” said Cuesta. “He was three blocks away from my home. Three blocks away. He heard the alarm or the emergency and he decided not to leave. That contributed to the death of my son, so I think of him every single day.”

Last year, the D.C. Council passed the firefighter retirement while under Disciplinary Investigation Act, which would prevent firefighters from retiring under certain circumstances, and under others, fine them up to $5,000.

It is unclear what, if any discipline, Lt. Valentine may receive now that he has decided to retire.

In another twist to this story, Cuesta and his attorney are still in the dark over another part of the investigation – whether D.C. police are still looking into the nanny's actions that day. She has since fled the country.

Martin Cuesta was initially placed on life support at Georgetown university hospital and later died.

On Monday evening, D.C. Fire and EMS sent FOX 5 this statement saying:

“On March 11, 2015, the “Firefighter Retirement While Under Disciplinary Investigation Amendment Act of 2014” became law which stipulated that members who retire or resign are still subject to actions by the agency until disciplinary investigations are complete and factual findings are made.

“At this time, the Department cannot take action against a member who resigns or retires while under disciplinary investigation because the regulations have not been adopted.  Implementation of the law was contingent on adoption of regulations and the law required the regulations to be adopted by May 11, 2015.  The Department has failed to adopt the required regulations.

“The regulations currently are being drafted and will be published in the DC Register within the next 30 days.  After a period of public comment, the Department will adopt the regulations and implement the law.”

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