A Black hospital worker is suing his employer after he was almost shot by police during a mass-shooting drill that both patients, staff and authorities believed was a real attack.
Brandon Woodruff, a 32-year-old labourer, was asked to pose as a gunman as part of an active-shooter drill at the Hawthorn Center psychiatric hospital in Northville Township, Michigan, on 21 December 2022.
Though skeptical, Mr Woodruff and a second colleague – a white male – agreed.
While a description matching their appearances would be read out over the tanoy as two shooters armed with AR-15s in the facility, they would then walk through the building and check if people were following active shooting protocol.
What they didn’t know was that the hospital bosses had failed to inform the staff, patients or the local police that they would be carrying out the drill.
When the drill unfolded with Mr Woodruff playing his part as asked, several people placed terrified 911 calls and heavily armed police officers responded to the scene.
The 32-year-old was handcuffed, detained and forced to lie on the ground while officers trained their firearms on him.
Terrified, he called his pregnant wife on his smartwatch to speak to her in what he feared could be his last moments alive.
Now, Mr Woodruff, several other employees and two sets of parents of child patients have filed multiple civil lawsuits against the Michigan state health department and against four hospital officials including the hospital director, director of training and data improvement, physical plant supervisor and safety coordinator, and the human resources manager and case manager.
In the lawsuits, Mr Woodruff claims that only the hospital’s supervisors were warned about the drill in advance and they were told not to relay the information to any other staff or patients.
Mr Woodruff told the Detroit Free Press that the alert went out over the system reporting two active shooters – one Black male, one white male, both dressed in winter clothing and armed with AR-15s.
Over the next 10 to 15 minutes, he said he and his colleague walked through the building separately before reuniting again.
There was one moment where he said it dawned on him that some of the people inside the hospital didn’t seem to realise it was only a drill.
He saw one woman sprinting “like she ran for her dear life” and then came across another room where the desperate occupants had used mattresses and chairs to try to barricade the doors.
“It was one particular room that drew me off guard, and I was on one of the living areas. It was the way it was barricaded,” he told the local paper.
“I had an uneasy feeling, like maybe these kids think this is real. I’m gonna like leave them alone in this area.
“They probably a little scared and not know what’s going on. So, I just left that area and just continued.”
Meanwhile, unbeknown to him, several people were desperately calling 911 and texting their loved ones in fear for their lives.
One 911 caller begged the dispatcher “please, please, please, help me”.
The Northville Township Police Department confirmed in a press release at the time that officers from Northville Township, the City of Northville, City of Livonia and Michigan State Police all responded to the Hawthorn Center that morning to reports of an active threat incident.
The lawsuit states that around 50 officers descended on the facility.
Mr Woodruff said he had no idea law enforcement was there until he walked outside and heard shouting to “get down”.
“I’m hearing yelling, ‘Get down’ … and I’m like I don’t know what the hell’s happening,” he told the Free Press.
“The police is here. Why are they here?”
He quickly complied with the officers’ commands, lying down on the concrete with his hands out “trying to figure out what’s going on”.
While he lay there, Mr Woodruff says he “heard the safeties come off the police officers’ weapons” and “was scared for his life,” the lawsuit claims.
He said he and his colleague were searched and handcuffed for at least 30 minutes before authorities confirmed it was an “unannounced drill” and let them go.
Mr Woodruff said he has been left traumatised and suffers from “anxiety, fear, depression and even suicidal ideation” from the experience and now struggles to go to work at the psychiatric hospital each day.
In the aftermath, he claims counseling on offer wasn’t useful and he was later denied a request for mental health treatment. He has been forced to miss work due to the trauma, he claims.
Meanwhile, some of the child psychiatric patients had to be sedated in the aftermath of the incident, ClickOnDetroit reported.
Besides the lawsuits, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office is investigating the incident.