A laborer at a psychiatric hospital in Michigan, who was playing a gunman in an active-shooter drill, was handcuffed and held at gunpoint by police after they responded to the scene, following frantic calls made by people in the building. According to New York Post, police were initially unaware that the employee, identified as 32-year-old Brandon Woodruff, was posing as an intruder.
The December 2022 incident happened at the state-run Hawthorn Center for Children, and Woodruff has since filed a lawsuit against the state. Per the Detroit Free Press, Woodruff said he took part in the said drill after his supervisor asked him to.
Woodruff, who is Black, also said police and several people at the facility were not told a drill was going to take place, adding that he and a White colleague were informed to go around unarmed to ensure people were sticking to the procedures.
The plaintiff’s lawyers said only supervisors were pre-informed about the drill, and were told to keep that information away from other employees, as well as about 50 children in the facility.
Woodruff and his White colleague were instructed to pose as intruders during the drill, per WDIV. The order, which was given by the plaintiff’s supervisor and safety coordinator, was given the green light by the hospital’s director.
However, the lawsuit stated that the hospital’s public address system announced that two active shooters armed with AR-15 assault rifles had entered the facility when the drill commenced. Though the said shooters were also described as Black and White, Woodruff did not know people weren’t notified about the drill, per New York Post. Officers who later responded to the scene ordered Woodruff and his White colleague to get on the ground.
“I’m hearing yelling, ‘Get down!’ … and I’m like I don’t know what the hell’s happening,” Woodruff told the Detroit Free Press. “The police are here. Why are they here?”
After complying with the officers’ orders, Woodruff said he used his Apple watch to call his wife, adding that he also told her to record the exchange with the law enforcement officials. “I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on,” he recalled.
“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 stated, per WDIV.
The lawsuit also stated that the plaintiff “heard the safeties come off the police officers’ weapons. Mr. Woodruff was scared for his life.”
Officers reportedly responded to the scene after people who feared for their lives called 911 and texted their loved ones. Police ultimately determined the incident was a “surprise drill” after they handcuffed Woodruff and detained him for more than 20 minutes.
“This morning an active intruder alert was announced on the overhead system. 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,” Hospital director Victoria Petti wrote in an email to staff after the incident, the lawsuit stated.
“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 claimed he participated in the drill because he feared he could lose his job if he did not say yes to his supervisor. He also said his wife was pregnant at the time, and he needed the benefits to support his family. He added that his supervisor initially told him to carry an object during the drill, but he refused to do that because it sounded odd, per WDIV.
The plaintiff said the incident has negatively impacted him, adding that his supervisor gave him a “half-assed” apology. He also said the counseling he received did not yield any positive results. According to Woodruff’s lawyer, he has suffered “anxiety, fear, depression, and even suicidal ideation in the days, weeks, and months since this incident.”
In a statement, the Michigan Health Department said it acknowledged that “patients, staff, and the community were affected by the incident in December,” the Detroit Free Press reported.
“The Joint Commission requires the state psychiatric hospitals conduct a hazard vulnerability analysis at least every two years to identify potential emergencies, including active shooter drills,” the statement added.
“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.”
Besides Woodruff, multiple employees have also filed two class-action lawsuits against the state Health Department for how the drill was handled.