Retirement on hold for DC fire lieutenant facing neglect of duty charge in choking toddler case

- Two weeks after D.C.’s fire chief admitted that it was a mistake to allow a lieutenant to retire with full benefits while he was being accused of wrongdoing – that retirement is now on hold.

Lt. Guy Valentine, who was facing neglect of duty charges in the response to a toddler choking on grapes, is still on the job and his retirement is now listed as conditional.

D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean said two weeks ago that the fire department never enacted the regulations passed by the city council that would have kept a firefighter under investigation and facing discipline from retiring with full benefits.

It is a mistake, the department said at the time, that would allow Lt. Valentine from taking his pension and retiring.

But late this week, Chief Dean announced he was placing Valentine’s retirement on hold after enacting emergency rules that will take effect on February 5 – in time to keep the lieutenant from leaving the job for good.

Firefighters who want to retire from the department have to wait 60 days before it becomes official. Since the fire department never adopted the rules of the law passed by the D.C. Council, Lt. Valentine was going to be able to retire before going before a disciplinary trial board.

When we interviewed Chief Dean two weeks ago, he told us he was going to make it right for the family of the late toddler, and on Tuesday, the department adopted what is called emergency rules that effectively places Lt. Valentine's retirement on hold until he faces a charge of neglect of duty.

It is a move welcomed by Jose Cuesta, the toddler’s father.

"I think it is completely unfair and ludicrous that after his neglect of duty that contributed to the death of my son, he could hide in some legal loophole to avoid facing his responsibilities, and I would urge the fire department to try Mr. Valentine, to punish him properly and proportional to the pain he has caused to the family,” said Cuesta.

Last March 13th, Lt. Valentine was in a firehouse in Tenleytown when the call went out for a child choking on grapes. The call was just three blocks from the firehouse, and according to investigators, Valentine heard the call go out but didn't respond because he wasn't dispatched and told investigators he was unaware the toddler’s home was just down the street from the firehouse.

And that is not all. The lieutenant’s engine was not sent on the emergency because a tablet had become disconnected and dispatchers at the 911 center didn't know the engine was in the firehouse.

Help was instead sent from more than a mile away.

"Nothing is going to return my son to me and my family, but I think he needs to pay for what he did and the negligence that he committed,” said Cuesta.

The city council passed the law after another lieutenant was able to retire with full benefits despite facing discipline in the case of a Cecil Mills, a D.C. man who collapsed across the street from a firehouse and no one came out to help.

Lt. Valentine has never spoken publicly or defended his actions that day. We reached out to him again on Friday and have heard nothing back.

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