The family of a 16-year-old student who died trapped in a vehicle after a failed response to his two heartrending 911 calls sued the city of Cincinnati on Monday.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed in Hamilton County charges the city, two 911 center employees, two police officers and a former city official with actions the suit alleges led to Kyle Plush’s death in 2018. Plush’s parents have said the object of the lawsuit is to find out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The lawsuit states that “defendants acted recklessly and with deliberate indifference in failing to protect Kyle Plush, causing him to suffer greatly before his death.” It seeks a jury trial and compensatory damages of more than $25,000 against the defendants. Punitive damages to be determined at trial are being sought against defendants other than the city.
A statement from the Gerhardstein & Branch law firm, which is representing the family, says the lawsuit details a “deteriorating” Cincinnati 911 program in the months leading up to the teen’s death. The goal of the legal action is to uncover the 911 problems “that led to Kyle’s death,” according to the statement. Al Gerhardstein is a veteran civil rights attorney.
City Manager Patrick Duhaney in a statement Monday expressed condolences to the family for the “tragic loss of their son.” He added that the city has since reviewed and evaluated the ways in which it responds to emergencies and has developed and implemented changes “in a transparent and collaborative manner.”
Duhaney also stated that while the city solicitor’s office will defend those named in the lawsuit, the administration wouldn’t comment further at this time, “given that there is active litigation.”
The teen’s death led to multiple investigations and to improvements in the city’s 911 system technology, staffing, training and police procedures. But the youth’s parents have expresseddissatisfaction, while pressing for answers.
Ron Plush repeatedly took part in city council meetings last year, pushing for reforms and accountability for his son’s death. Using the voice-activated feature on his cellphone, the teen had Siri dial 911, warning: “I’m going to die here.” He called again minutes later, this time describing his vehicle as a gold Honda Odyssey.
Two police officers drove around at the boy’s high school looking for him but left without getting out of their cruiser.
He eventually suffocated from having his chest compressed after he was apparently pinned by a foldaway rear seat when he reached for tennis gear while parked near his school. Kyle’s father found his body nearly six hours after his first 911 call.
Police have blamed communication breakdowns and said procedures have been changed in the aftermath.
There were also questions raised about the safety of the 2004 Odyssey the student died in. Honda in 2017 recalled some 900,000 later-model Odysseys because of concerns about second-row seats tipping forward if not latched properly, but spokesman Chris Martin said earlier this year that there were no seat-related recalls of the 2004 model. He said this has been the only instance of its type involving that model, and there isn’t any pattern of similar incidents from which to draw any conclusions.
The Plush family has memorialized Kyle with a foundation in his name that pushes for reforms, education and supporting emergency communications employees.