Family Files $75 Million Suit Against D.C. (2010 CA 007531 B) for Alleged Negligence and Civil Rights Abuses in Nightmare Drowning of Six-Year-Old Daughter

Oct 19, 2010, 12:14 ET from Erik D. Bolog, attorney for Ballard family

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Four months ago, six-year-old Yiana Ballard needlessly died after she struggled and then sank, inexplicably unnoticed by any lifeguard or pool staff, to the bottom of a District of Columbia-operated swimming pool. Today, her family announced a $75 million lawsuit over the city's negligence that led to her death, as well as the horrific aftermath in which, without even a shred of evidence that Yiana's parents had anything to do with the drowning, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department imprisoned Yiana's parents for over four hours, and D.C. Child and Family Services officials threatened to remove them from their surviving children.

A seven-count complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court on October 7, 2010 by Yiana's father Edward Ballard, mother Deana Parrott-Ballard and other surviving family members details a story of negligence and deliberate indifference on the part of the District toward a family that just witnessed the death of a beloved child.

"This tragedy could have been prevented many times over and we want to send a message to the District that this must never, ever happen again," said Erik D. Bolog, attorney for the Ballard family. "But this case is not just about the negligence of the District that led to the drowning death of a young child; it is about how the family was treated immediately following this horrible tragedy. Instead of showing the family compassion and concern about their loss at the hands of District employees, District officials treated them abusively and as criminals."

The Drowning Prevention Foundation reports that 19 percent of drowning deaths involving children occur in public pools with certified lifeguards present. The Ballard's lawsuit centers on the widely covered tragedy of June 23, 2010, in which Yiana remained submerged and motionless in the deep end of the Turkey Thicket indoor swimming pool, unnoticed by inattentive lifeguards. When finally roused to action—by the shouted insistence of a pool patron—the possibility of rescue was further foreclosed by the lifeguards' negligent administration of CPR and poolside kits that lacked necessary emergency masks and pumps. The inattentiveness of the Turkey Thicket lifeguards was a notorious problem long before Yiana's death; in March of 2010, a frequent pool visitor emailed the Department of Parks & Recreation, noting that lifeguards frequently used cell phones and slept while on duty. She called it "a recipe for disaster."

The pain of Yiana's death—eye-witnessed by her parents and sister—was greatly compounded by the disturbing events that followed. MPD Detective Charles Hilliard insisted Mr. and Mrs. Ballard leave the hospital bedside of their daughter who had just died and proceed to the police station for interrogation. Having no cause to suspect the parents of any wrongdoing, MPD kept Mr. and Mrs. Ballard isolated and locked in separate interrogation rooms for four hours. Det. Hilliard harshly interrogated both parents and denied each of their requests for counsel made in reaction to their bizarre and traumatizing detention.

Even after the interrogations, Det. Hilliard kept Mr. and Mrs. Ballard against their will at the police station until the arrival of Child and Family Services Agency employee Kenneth Frazier. By 9:30 p.m. the Ballards had spent six hours at the police station, when Mr. Frazier threatened to remove their surviving children if they did not acquiesce to an immediate interrogation. Following that questioning, in which Mr. Frazier falsely accused the Ballards of abusing their children, he insisted—again, at the threat of taking the children into protective custody—that the Ballards allow him to immediately interview the children. At approximately 11:00 p.m. on the day of their sister's death, the children, aged 8, 10 and 17, were subjected to intensive and accusatory questioning by Mr. Frazier.

The complaint charges the District of Columbia, Det. Charles Hilliard, Kenneth Frazier and Mr. Frazier's supervisor William Johnson with seven counts including wrongful death, gross negligence and deprivation of civil rights.  It seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75 million. At today's press conference, the Ballards also announced plans to donate a portion of the potential recovery to fund lifeguard training for the District pool in order to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. A copy of the complaint can be obtained at http://bit.ly/dkAXzm.

SOURCE Erik D. Bolog, attorney for Ballard family