Flint Facing $50 Million Suit Over Fire Deaths

The long-awaited wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Flint and two firefighters has been filed by the mother of two boys who died after a housefire last year. Crystal Cooper claims that Sgt. Daniel Sniegocki and firefighter Michael Zlotek are responsible for the deaths of Zyaire and Lamar Mitchell.

The brothers, 12 and 8, died days after a fire in their home on May 28, 2022. Sniegocki and Zlotek were tasked with completing a primary search, and reportedly gave an all clear. The victims were located by crews preforming a secondary search.

Sniegocki and Zlotek were placed on administrative leave and chose to resign. Fire Chief Raymond Barton was dismissed by Mayor Sheldon Neeley, and has since filed a $10 Million wrongful termination suit.

Quoting from Cooper’s complaint:

  • As will be demonstrated below, the lives of Plaintiff’s decedents, Lamar and Zyairc Mitchell, were taken at the tender ages of 8 and 12, respectively, due to the reckless misconduct of Defendants Sergeant Daniel Sniegocki and Firefighter Michael Zlotek, both of whom failed to conduct the primary search of the second floor of the Mitcbell residence, and then deliberately misrepresented the findings of their purported searches by affirmatively stating that they had conducted a primary search of the second floor with negative results, thereby demonstrating a quintessential and absolute indifference to the foreseeable harm that would result with respect to any entrapped occupants.
  • Defendants (Sniegocki and Zlotek) arrived at the Pulaski residence with the understanding that there was a strong possibility that a person or persons were entrapped inside the burning home.
  • As such, these Defendants knew or should have known that failing to follow orders to conduct a primary search of the residence and then deliberately misrepresenting their findings of their purported searches by affirmatively stating that they had conducted a primary search of the second floor with negative results would cause any entrapped persons in unsearched locations within the residence to needlessly suffer increased harm from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning when they would have otherwise been rescued.
  • In other words, it was foreseeable that these Defendants’ affirmative lies about conducting a primary search of the second floor of the residence with negative results would not only hinder timely rescue efforts of entrapped persons but would increase the harm faced by those entrapped persons.
  • Because the fire at the Pulaski residence had already been knocked down at the time Defendants Sniegocki and Zlotek were ordered to conduct a search of the second floor, the burden on Defendants Sniegodd and Zlotek to actually conduct a primary search was minimal at best.
  • Moreover, the fact that Defendants Sniegoclci and Zlotek were equipped with protective gear and professional search equipment further minimized any burden on these Defendants to adhere to their oath, their orders, and their duties to conduct an undertaking so as not to create an additional hazard or increase an already existing hazard.
  • As demonstrated by the fact that Plaintiffs decedents were ultimately located and rescued within seconds of other firefighters entering their bedroom after Defendants Sniegocki and Zlotek had intentionally reported false search results, this was not a situation where the nature of the risk to Defendants Sniegocki and Zlotek impacted their ability to conduct a primary search.

The suit was filed in Genesee County Circuit Court alleging gross negligence, wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Cooper’s due process rights under a state-created danger doctrine.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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