Flint, MI— Today, counsel for Crystal Cooper, who lost her two sons in a Flint house fire over Memorial Day weekend, held a press conference to share possible next steps and civil action against the City of Flint.
“We are going to be filing a complete and thorough amended complaint relatively soon,” said Attorney Todd Flood, who along with Attorney Robert Kenner, Jr. is representing Cooper. “We’re waiting for a couple of affidavits and experts’ reports that we’ve been speaking with, so that’ll be forthcoming.”
Kenner, Jr. noted that Cooper had previously been working with a different lawyer who had filed complaint “unbeknownst” to Cooper or her new attorneys.
“We’ve looked at the complaint, and there are some things that we need to change,” Kenner Jr. said. Those changes, he said, include “facts that were not originally in the complaint,” but he did not elaborate on specifics.
The Nov. 4 press conference follows Flint City Council’s Oct. 19 vote to launch an independent investigation into the handling of a May 28, 2022 house fire at 637 W. Pulaski St.
That fire resulted in the deaths of Cooper’s two children, Lamar Mitchell, age 12, and Zy’Aire Mitchell, age 9, who were staying at the home of their father, DeAndre Mitchell, when the fire occurred.
Cooper and her family have since been seeking answers from Flint officials, as a later report from Flint’s Fire Chief Raymond Barton stated that the two firefighters who had issued an “all-clear” before her sons were found had falsified their accounts of the incident.
“Two of the firefighters who responded to the call issued an all-clear, leaving the rest of the firefighters to believe that they had searched the entire house and that there was no one inside the house,” Cooper told council on Oct. 19. “As a result of the firefighters issuing an all-clear my sons were left in the fire for an additional six minutes.”
She said that firefighters are trained to “save lives” and search for people who may have passed out from smoke inhalation or are trapped.
“This didn’t happen with my sons,” she said. “The firefighters didn’t follow protocol and they lied about it. To this day, my sons have not received justice.”
At the Nov. 4 press conference, Cooper again asked for justice for her children.
“It has been six months and one day to be exact, since I last seen my children,” Cooper said, before tearfully recounting the day-of and aftermath of the fire.
“Not only did me and their dad lose out on life, my family did as well,” Cooper concluded. “So I’m just asking for a thorough investigation to be done because it’s a lot of cover-ups. And, just justice for my boys.”
Before city council voted for an independent investigation on Oct. 19, Fire Chief Raymond Barton indicated that he had recommended firing the two firefighters—identified as Daniel Sniegocki and Michael Zlotek—who had not completed a proper search of Mitchell’s home before calling off others.
Barton said “through advisement” his decision was then changed to suspend the two men, without pay, pending investigation. Barton said that decision was made between himself, City Attorney William Kim, City Administrator Clyde Edwards, and Flint’s Human Resources Director Eddie Smith.
Instead, though, one of the two firefighters resigned from the department while the other was allowed to return to the job after receiving additional search-and-rescue training.
When Flint City Council President Dennis Pfeiffer asked Barton if he’d given the firefighter who resigned a recommendation, Barton responded “absolutely not.”
Pfeiffer then asked about the fire department’s “morale” after having Barton’s initial recommendation “to terminate” the two firefighters over-ruled.
“Let’s say it for what it is,” Barton responded. “It’s split the department.”
Flint City Council is now set to hold a special meeting about the Pulaski Street fire investigation at City Hall this evening at 5:30 p.m. The meeting was called by Councilwoman Tonya Burns and Councilman Eric Mays.
“I want to make sure that investigation is moving forward,” Burns told Flint Beat regarding the reason for calling the meeting. She said she had grown concerned after hearing the city’s HR Director had “stated that they want to change the direction that Chief Barton had made.”
“There’s only one direction to make,” Burns said. “And that’s to make sure we’re moving forward with truth and transparency … I don’t want to be any part of a cover up. I want to make sure this family gets what they need.”
Flood said he was not yet certain of who or what agency would be leading the investigation council has called for, but it could mean separate criminal charges later.
“If a fire officer has a job and he manipulates evidence, and they conspire to it, that would be what is called misconduct in office, and that would be a felony,” Flood said at the press conference. “You tamper with evidence? That would be a felony.”
In response to the multiple claims the city has worked to “cover up” what happened during and after the fire, the City of Flint administration issued the following statement:
“There is absolutely no truth to the allegation that there is a cover up. All rules, regulations, and final recommendations have been adhered to, according to state and federal law and collective bargaining agreements. Local media have reported on this tragedy, and the administration has been fully transparent in providing accurate information. Documentation of this tragedy has been publicly available and has been provided to all parties who requested it. As we continue to lift this family in prayer, it appears that this tragedy is being exploited for political gain. As litigation is pending, we will continue to follow all legal processes.”
Council’s special meeting on the Pulaski Street fire investigation is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2022 at Flint City Hall.