The mother of two children, who died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning after being stuck in a Flint, Michigan, housefire, has filed a lawsuit against the city for $50 million.
The mother believes the firefighters reneged on their oath to fearlessly serve, actions that resulted in the death of her sons.
Crystal Cooper says her family is struggling to process the deaths of Lamar Mitchell, 9, and Zyaire Mitchell, 12, who died at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan during the summer of 2022. Mitchell died on June 1, and his brother died two days later, after being trapped on the second floor of the house they were in.
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the grieving mother, representing her son’s estates, filed an amended complaint in Genesee Circuit Court. She claims that former Flint firefighter Sgt. Daniel Sniegocki and his co-worker Michael Zlotek grossly neglected their duty to save her sons and thus are responsible for their deaths, Penn Live reports.
In addition to their wrongful deaths, Detroit attorney Todd Flood, a former Flint water crisis prosecutor, and attorney Robert Kenner Jr. of Stone Mountain, Georgia, Cooper’s attorneys, claim her children’s due process rights were violated, all of which have inflicted emotional distress to their mother.
The lawsuit explains, “On May 28, 2022, two members of the Flint Fire Department blatantly disregarded their oaths and took affirmative actions that tragically affected the lives of two innocent children.”
“Lamar and Zyaire Mitchell would still be alive if Defendants Daniel Sniegocki and Michael Zlotek had conducted a primary search of the second floor of the Pulaski (Street) residence, as ordered by commanding officers, and truthfully reported the results to their fellow firefighters,” the complaint adds.
Zlotek and Sniegocki said they had searched the second floor but did not find anyone there.
However, former Fire Chief Raymond Barton said that is not the truth.
In his report, he said the men both consciously chose to lie about searching the second floor. Barton said by doing so, they brought an end to the search for anyone in the residence and ultimately delayed calls for emergency medical help.
The chief recommended that the two firefighters be fired. His recommendation was not taken by City Hall.
Still, one of the firefighters resigned, and the other was suspended for two weeks and received additional search-and-rescue training before returning to the job. The second civil servant eventually resigned also.
Barton was fired in November 2022 after refusing to change his assessment of Zlotek and Sniegocki’s actions and recommendations for them to be fired as a result. In January, he filed a $10 million lawsuit against Mayor Sheldon Neeley and the city in a federal court, claiming he was wrongfully terminated.
According to Cooper’s amended complaint, both boys died as a result of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
“To a medical degree of certainty, both Lamar and Zyaire would have survived if Defendants had followed orders by commanding officers to conduct a primary search … There was more than enough time to evacuate both … to safety had these Defendants actually performed a primary search of the second-floor bedrooms where they were ultimately found,” the legal claim stresses.
Fire investigators say the source of the fire was faulty wiring in the home’s living room and said the house did not have smoke alarms installed, according to ABC 12 News. The boys were spending that weekend at the home of their father, DeAndre Mitchell, who was not present at the residence when the fire started.
The mother believes while the fire was devastating, it was not what killed her boys. She said medical experts believe the at least seven minutes that elapsed between the time the Zlotek and Sniegocki declared the all-clear to the other firefighters and the time the children were discovered, were the most detrimental to their lives.
The city of Flint’s lawyer Bill Kim has not commented on the new court filing in a statement.
But on Wednesday, Feb. 8, Kim did offer, “loss of children is the deepest tragedy that any family can endure, and we join the Flint community in mourning Lamar and Zyaire Mitchell.”