Black Detroit hospital worker sues after he was asked to play gunman at work, only to be arrested
A black laborer at a Detroit psychiatric hospital for children is suing after he was asked to play a gunman for an active shooter drill which ended with him being arrested after his bosses failed to share their plans.
Brandon Woodruff, 32, had been working at the site for five months when his supervisor asked him to participate in the drill four days before Christmas 2022.
But neither the police nor the patients or their families were informed of the plan, and many staff were also unaware of what was going to happen.
When Woodruff – a dad of one – appeared with a fake rifle, patients panicked and dialed 911, prompting 50 cops in tactical gear to race to the scene and arrest Woodruff.
‘Although the terror, panic and mortification of those trapped inside Hawthorn was real, there were no intruders, there were no AR-15s and there were no ‘shots fired’,’ the suit states.
‘Rather, the State of Michigan created the terror and panic at Hawthorn Center as an ill-conceived ‘safety’ drill.
‘Even the scores of law enforcement who responded to the frantic 911 calls from those trapped inside the building thought there were intruders with military style weapons; they too were preparing to risk their lives to save the children and the adults who were trying to protect them.
Brandon Woodruff, 32, a laborer at a Detroit psychiatric hospital for children, is suing for damages after he was arrested at work, while participating in ‘an ill-conceived ‘safety’ drill’
Woodruff’s suit was filed a month after families and staff filed their own class-action suits, seeking damages.
A physical description of Woodruff, a black man soon to be a father, was circulated when the alert was issued and an unarmed Woodruff was told to walk through the corridors of the hospital, noting down how people reacted.
Woodruff said he was uneasy at the idea, but complied.
Yet when he went into the building he was deeply upset by the terror he saw.
Woodruff did not know that the people in the building had not been warned of the drill, according to the lawsuit.
She told The Detroit Free Press she was one woman sprinting ‘like she ran for her dear life.’
Woodruff added: ‘It was one particular room that drew me off guard, one of the living areas.
‘It was the way it was barricaded’ with mattresses and chairs, said Woodruff.
‘I had an uneasy feeling, like maybe these kids think this is real. I’m gonna like to leave them alone in this area. They probably a little scared and don’t know what’s going on. So, I just left that area and just continued.
Those inside the building called 911, and sent what they feared were final texts to loved ones.
One woman whispered during her 911 call, asking a dispatcher, ‘Are the police here?’
When the dispatcher said officers were checking things out, the caller said, ‘Please, please, please, help me.’
The dispatcher told her to stay calm and that he was there with her.
‘I’m so scared,’ she whispered.
Police are seen responding to the drill at Hawthorn Center on December 21
A tearful Woodruff spoke to the Detroit Free Press about the traumatic incident.
On receiving the 911 calls about an active shooter, officers were dispatched: 22 heavily-armed police rushed to the center, from Northville and Livonia townships.
Michigan State Police also rushed there.
When they arrived, officers quickly grabbed their tactical weapons and heavy gear.
In front of the building, two people – one of them being Woodruff – told police it was just a drill.
But they were then told to lie on the ground till the police confirmed their story.
Woodruff, face down, used his smartwatch to call his wife, who recorded what she heard.
According to the lawsuit, Woodruff feared for his life and wanted to make sure that his wife heard the last moments of his life.
Woodruff’s attorneys say he ‘heard the safeties come off the police officers’ weapons.’
They said: ‘Mr Woodruff was scared for his life.’
He had not been told the police were unaware it was a drill.
Woodruff (right) was handcuffed, along with a white colleague (left) and held for 30 minutes.
The two men are seen being detained over the December 21 drill
‘Woodruff did his best to comply with the anxious, sometimes conflicting orders from the police officers, getting down on the ground, then moving slowly towards them with his hands raised, and finally lifting his shirt and turning around several times to show that he was not armed,’ the lawsuit states.
Footage shows Woodruff handcuffed.
He was kept under police control for at least 30 minutes as police sorted out the situation.
The drill was held at 10:30am.
At 5:11pm, Victoria Petti, the hospital director, emailed staff to explain what had happened and apologize for ‘the stress’, saying she accepted it had ‘touched you all in different ways’.
Woodruff’s attorneys state the drill was announced only to supervisors in advance, with strict instructions not to inform subordinate employees or children.
On a typical weekday morning, about 50 children and 200 staff are at the center, they said.
‘This morning an active intruder alert was announced on the overhead system,’ Petti wrote.
‘Although this was a drill it was not announced as such.
‘Understandably, many in the building became frightened and some contacted 911. A tactical team responded to these calls and arrived armed and in full gear.
‘I want to convey how deeply sorry I am that this occurred and for the stress it’s caused.
I spoke with many of you today and hope to reach others in the next few days.
‘I know this has touched you all in different ways.’
Woodruff said he has struggled at work since the incident.
He is pictured with his baby daughter, who was born in February
Two former Hawthorn Center employees told Click On Detroit they were left with lasting trauma from the attack.
One said: ‘After the drill was over, a lot of the children actually had to be sedated, so they had to call emergency for outside hospitals.’
Another explained: ‘I couldn’t stop crying, tears rolling down my eyes, I couldn’t stop shaking, I was trembling uncontrollably,’ said one of the employees.
‘It’s created anxiety, trouble sleeping. Every time this is mentioned, it’s like reliving the event.
‘So every little sound you hear, that I particularly heard, I felt like, okay, they’re out in the hallway, you know, I really have nowhere to hide that’s going to protect me. So I just felt like, you know, this is probably going to be, you know, my last day here.’
David Horeine, whose son was a patient at Hawthorn during the drill, said the terrified parents placed themselves between the door and their children, hoping to save them.
He told Click On Detroit: ‘But the kids were informed if the adults were to go down, the kids would have to fight for their lives.’
Horeine said they were not told by the hospital what had happened, even afterwards.
‘ We find out over Facebook. We were never notified by the hospital about what happened at all on that day.
Horeine, who has joined the class suit, called for people to be fired over the drill.
‘I don’t mince words. So I will say that I think that people who orchestrated this event need to be terminated. I think it was gross negligence.
The families and staff have filed two class-action lawsuits.
One lawsuit targets the state, as the Department of Health and Human Services operates the Hawthorn Center, while the other lawsuit focuses on specific members of the hospital staff who initiated the unannounced active shooter drill.
The lawsuits seek a comprehensive investigation by the state attorney general, full accountability for what the plaintiffs consider a grossly irresponsible decision, and damages.
Woodruff said he struggles to go to work, but has to support his family.
His attorney said he missed work at times over distress from the drill, and as a result of taking time and a miscalculation from the state on military service credit, Woodruff was told he didn’t qualify, by less than a day’s work, for parental leave when his baby was born in February.
His attorneys also said in March he was denied a request for mental health treatment.
Initial counseling offered by the hospital was ‘half-assed,’ and no one in the administration apologised.
‘There was no transparency about the aftermath of this,’ he said.
‘I feel they don’t care about what happened and they’re trying to minimize it and sweep it under the rug ‘cuz they know we are about to leave this building.’
The state health department said they were reviewing procedures.
The authority said in a statement it understood that ‘patients, staff and the community were affected by the incident in December.’
‘The Joint Commission requires the state psychiatric hospitals to conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis at least every two years to identify potential emergencies, including active shooter drills.
‘MDHHS is working with township law enforcement and the Michigan State Police on an improved active intruder training and drill process as part of updating its emergency operations policy.’