Worker told to pose as shooter for drill, then cops hold him at gunpoint, lawsuit says

A man employed as a skilled laborer at a children’s psychiatric hospital was instructed to pose as one of two intruders for an active shooter drill at the facility.

What 32-year-old Brandon Woodruff didn’t know was that the hospital staff, children under their care and the police had no idea it was a drill that day on Dec. 21 at the Hawthorn Center in Northville Township, Michigan, according to a lawsuit.

As Woodruff was unaware employees were fearing for their lives and frantically calling 911 — telling authorities that two men armed with AR-15’s were inside the building — he would soon fear for his own life, the lawsuit says.

When he and a co-worker, who was told to pose as the second intruder, stepped outside after completing their part of the drill, they were met with police officers in tactical gear and guns drawn, pointed at them, shouting “Get Down!” through a bullhorn, according to a complaint filed May 15.

After being held at gunpoint, Woodruff and his colleague were handcuffed and detained for about 30 minutes, the complaint says.

“I’m the one who almost got killed, but I’m honestly more concerned about the kids and how the other staffers feel,” Woodruff told ClickOnDetroit in an interview.

He said at that moment, they were afraid of him, according to the outlet.

Woodruff is suing four Hawthorn Center officials, including his supervisor who asked him to pretend to be the intruder, over the unannounced drill, the lawsuit shows. The center is run by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

State health department public information officer Chelsea Wuth told McClatchy News in a statement on May 19 that the agency “understands that our patients, staff and community were affected by the incident in December.”

She said state-run psychiatric hospitals must conduct safety analyses, including active shooter drills, at least every two years.

The health department is working with authorities “on an improved active intruder training and drill process as part of updating its emergency operations policy,” Wuth said.

The morning of the drill

The morning of Dec. 21, Woodruff’s supervisor, the facility’s state-designated safety officer, ordered him and a maintenance department worker to “pretend they were active intruders” in a drill, the complaint says.

They were told to walk through the center, ensure doors were locked and that staff and children were hidden, according to the complaint.

Woodruff, who had started working at the facility in July, was under the impression that this was a typical safety exercise for the facility, the complaint says.

At the time, he and his wife’s baby was due in 2023, and he felt he couldn’t refuse an order from his supervisor out of fear of potentially losing his job, according to the complaint.

Although his supervisor asked him to carry ”an object” with him during the drill, Woodruff didn’t do so and thought the request was “unusual,” the complaint says.

‘Shots fired’

The drill began with a panicked voice of a front desk worker, who announced “active intruders” were inside the building over an announcement system between 10 and 11 a.m., according to the complaint.

Woodruff’s supervisor made a second announcement, saying “two active intruders, one caucasian male, one African American male, armed with AR 15s, shots fired,” the complaint says.

Chaos and fear erupted throughout the hospital, according to the complaint.

Children were crying, staff were extremely afraid — as some sent what they thought could be their last messages to loved ones — and barricaded themselves inside rooms, the complaint says. A few employees called 911.

When police arrived, staff /believed they “had their worst fears confirmed that this was a genuine active shooter situation,” according to the complaint.

Police response

When Woodruff and his colleague finished “their task,” they saw armed police officers, with at least eight patrol cars, ordering them to get down when they walked outside the building, according to the complaint.

Woodruff, scared he was about to die, complied and had his Apple watch call his wife so she could hear “the last moments of his life,” the complaint says.

Ultimately, the officers frisked and handcuffed his colleague and then ordered Woodruff to get up before searching him, according to the complaint.

Woodruff tried telling officers he was an employee, but he was handcuffed and detained, the complaint says.

The Northville Township Police Department issued a news release later that day and said they and three other law enforcement agencies responded after receiving multiple 911 calls from the center indicating an active threat on Dec. 21.

They called it a “surprise drill” that was unannounced, according to the release.

According to Wuth, other staff members engaged with law enforcement officers to “resolve the situation.”

Now, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the incident, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Meanwhile, the drill left Woodruff with trauma, and he regularly experiences emotional distress, including panic and anxiety attacks, the complaint says.

Woodruff’s lawsuit isn’t the only lawsuit filed over the drill, according to his attorneys.

A class-action lawsuit was also filed by parents of a child receiving treatment at the center as well as state health department employees, according to attorney Michael Pitt, of Pitt, McGehee, Palmer, Bonanni & Rivers PC law firm.

Pitt and attorney Robin B. Wagney, also of the law firm, are representing the cases.

Northville is about 25 miles west of downtown Detroit.

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