Family blames federal agency for baby's death at airport in February
By Dave Dondoneau
Advertiser Staff Writer
The attorney for the family whose baby died at Honolulu International Airport in February said he believes U.S. Customs officials falsify their daily records to cover night-shift understaffing and how fast arriving passengers are cleared.
Rick Fried made the allegations yesterday at a news conference to discuss the family's lawsuit filed Monday against the federal government.
He distributed a timeline that he says was constructed by the medical examiner's office showing Michael Futi was without oxygen for 43 minutes before 911 was called - despite Futi's mother and his nurse and another man in the holding room beating on a locked door and pleading with Customs officials to get help.
The 15-day-old boy was flown to Honolulu from America Samoa on Feb. 8 for pre-arranged medical treatment at Kapi'olani Medical Center. Though arrangements for his arrival had been made a day before with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, an agent at the airport said Michael's mother wasn't cleared and would have to go through immigration screening, Fried said.
Fried filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of parents Luaiopu and Tony Futi alleging that Customs and Border Protection personnel caused the infant's death by "carelessly and negligently" delaying his entry into the country.
"It's different suing the federal government compared to you or I. You have to file a special form first and they have six months to investigate before you can file suit," Fried said. "I wrote a fairly detailed settlement proposal back in April and gave them 30 days to respond and heard nothing. ...
"But there's been a pattern, it appears, of understaffing, particularly at nighttime, and jury-rigging of records to show that times required by statute to process people have been met when they haven't.
"As a result of this case being filed I've had a number of calls of horror stories from people saying it's taken four hours to get through."
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency declined comment save for a one-paragraph news release.
"We grieve with the Futi family and our community over this loss," the release said. "CBP is cooperating fully with the police investigation in this matter. As this is now a matter in litigation, it would not be appropriate for CBP to comment."
"The ME's office brought in a renowned heart surgeon from San Diego for the autopsy," Fried said, "and his opinion was if Michael would have had this operation he likely would have lived to early adulthood or probably longer.
"Within 10 minutes of landing they should have been on their way to Kapi'olani for treatment," Fried said.
"The baby and nurse were both U.S. citizens and she speaks fluent English. They knew ahead of time the baby was coming and needed help, so this is quite shocking."