2018 Follow Up to an original post from 2014 entitled “My Email to the City Manager: Our Treatment of Ms. Lori Holt and the Heitman Family”
It has now been 7 years since Alex Heitman died. With the current events, it would seem appropriate timing to repost this. It was, after all, a turning point for me and my view of Akagi. Until this ordeal, I’d had no personal experiences with him that gave me reason to doubt his integrity (though others had shared concerns with me). In fact, it was Akagi who broached the Heitman matter with me first in one of our early meetings.
The following is my full email to Mark Watson as reported on here. On behalf of the City of Oak Ridge, I want to publicly apologize to the Heitman family and Ms. Lori Holt. I am deeply sorry for your loss and for how poorly you’ve been treated in your attempts to gain answers from East Tennessee officials. I will do whatever I can to help you.
Read more about the Heitman’s story here:
From: Trina Baughn [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 8:13 PM
To: Watson, Mark
I have been directly contacted by two different grieving mothers requesting my assistance in getting cooperation from our police department. Their stories reveal a disturbing pattern in how leadership disseminates public information and how we treat people in general.
As you may recall, on 6/3/13 a young woman by the name of Sarah McAdams was found floating in our civic center fountain. Council was initially alerted to the situation and were told that she died but then subsequently was revived. We were never informed that she lived for a few more weeks nor that she eventually died at MMC. No further information was revealed about her case until her mother, Lori Holt, was reported to be searching for answers six months later.
On 12/3/13, Ms. McAdams’ mother, Lori Holt, emailed me and explained that she had never been notified of her daughter’s death. She also stated that on 11/7/13, she was initially told by the ORPD that she could obtain the police reports filed regarding her daughter if she submitted the proper paperwork and payment, which she did the following day. Two weeks later, she was sent a letter from our clerk (dated 11/22/13) stating that we could not fulfill her request as the matter was “still open pending receipt of final medical records.”
In response to Mrs. Holt’s requests for information, Chief Akagi repeatedly told the press that he was refusing to turn over police files on Sarah McAdams because he was awaiting toxicology and autopsy results, even though her death certificate did not indicate that either had been performed.
It wasn’t until Bob Fowler informed him that the Regional Forensic Center had confirmed that the ORPD had never ordered a toxicology report or an autopsy (see the front page of the 12/26/13 KNS) that we finally released these records to Ms. Holt. Either Chief Akagi was grossly misinformed by his staff or he was intentionally untruthful. I believe we owe Ms. Holt and the public an explanation on why we handled this situation so carelessly and why it took over 2 months for us to provide a 12 page document, which is a public record, to Ms. Holt.
Last September, I made you, the city attorney and Chief Akagi aware of the fact that I’d been assisting Alex Heitman’s family when I asked you to release police records related to the investigation he’d initiated. This was after Mrs. Heitman had been told twice by Chief Akagi that no such records existed. She forwarded me two separate emails (dated 8/14/13 & 8/15/13) in which he said, “no one has knowledge of Alex having been in communication with anyone at the Police Department….to the best of my knowledge, the Police Department did not have, nor has ever had any investigations initiated or ongoing which involved your son in any capacity…”
Now that their story is getting the media’s attention, we appear to be continuing a pattern of obfuscation. In this March 2014 Tennessee Watchdog article, Chief Akagi stated, “I think it is important to note Mr. Heitman was never a complainant or reporting party in the ORPD investigation…” And in this article published today by the Daily Mail, Chief Akagi “refused to comment on whether Mr. Heitman had filed reports with the police department, saying he was not familiar with the case.” And apparently he went so far as to tell one reporter that he (Akagi) wasn’t even employed by the City of Oak Ridge on the day Alex died.
Chief Akagi’s statements to the press are clearly false since he started working here on 7/5/11; he sent officers to the SAB the days following Alex’s death; and because he personally facilitated the release of over 100 pages of police reports to the Heitmans five months before the publication of these articles.
If there is something more to either of these stories, then we should make comments indicating such. If not, then we need to address all further questions openly and honestly and quit compromising our own integrity. To do otherwise unnecessarily violates public trust and compounds the pain of these families who have already suffered so much.
Please address these matters swiftly and completely and apprise council of your corrective action plan.
Predictably, Mark Watson completely ignored the email. So, I requested an Executive Session. An Executive Session is a non-public meeting of council with the city attorney to discuss legal matters or matters with potential for legal implications.
The meeting yielded no action but did foreshadow behaviors that would soon become all too familiar. It would also enlighten me to those individuals who held Akagi in unusually high regard.