Former DC 911 director files whistleblower suit for reporting ‘often fatal mistakes’

For more than a year, she ran D.C.’s 911 emergency dispatch center. Now in a suit against the mayor and the District, the former director claims she was fired for shining a light on problems plaguing the department.

The claims that Cleo Subido makes in her 36-page whistleblower lawsuit filed earlier this month paint a much darker picture of the troubled Office of Unified Communications than has been previously known.

The suit alleges that under Mayor Muriel Bowser’s leadership, the city “repeatedly sought to conceal errors and mismanagement by OUC and to downplay serious, life-threatening — and often fatal — mistakes.”

When asked about the suit, Bowser told WTOP that she looks forward to the case, saying, “I believe the lawsuit is without merit.”

As first reported by Statter 911, Subido’s claims include her documenting 10 instances in a day when dispatchers sent responders to the wrong address, noting “comparatively, Ms. Subido could recollect only one similar incident during her 13 years with (Seattle Police Department).”

Subido’s suit contains allegations OUC went out of its way to avoid complying with public information requests, denying 80% of Freedom of Information Act requests received, and that the city’s 911 staff lacked adequate training and used outdated technology.

“Ultimately, Ms. Subido concluded that both staffing levels and supervisory ratios, training, and dispatch times did not align with national standards,” the suit said.

Subido claims during a spring 2021 meeting, her boss, then-Deputy Mayor Chris Geldart, warned her “to tread carefully and not pursue her concerns as it would upset Mayor Bowser and would likely result in Mayor Bowser firing Ms. Subido.”

Subido also faults reinstated director Karima Holmes for her failure to change a broken system, claiming that she “discovered through her audit that data about OUC’s performance reported under then-Director Holmes was inaccurate.”

The suit said that she “informed Deputy Mayor Geldart that, although OUC had reported figures related to OUC’s performance to the Mayor and the council, the numbers reported were inaccurate and inflated because of the prior administration’s instructions on how to measure speed to answer,” suggesting the “speed to answer times” that lawmakers were basing oversight and legislation upon were intentionally measured differently than the national standard.

Subido never succeeded past her interim director status and instead was demoted and then fired, when Bowser appointed Holmes back into the role. Bowser eventually withdrew Holmes’ nomination last December after facing opposition from council members. Heather McGaffin was nominated in February for the director position.

Subido claims Bowser then had her fired from her next role with D.C. Fire & EMS and the city denied her unemployment benefits, noting she was fired for misconduct. When she appealed, the suit said the city’s attorneys failed to prove the claim.

Crucial to the whistleblower status of this lawsuit, Subido said that after expressing concern that the city was violating the law, she was fired, “despite her demonstrated contributions to improving emergency communication operations, and her widespread support from the community, members of the Council, and from the Fire and EMS chiefs.”

Subido claimed that the mayor and the city intended to silence her and deter others from raising or addressing similar concerns.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up