Widow's lawsuit: 'Hazardous' District 5 police station led to cop's cancer death

WATCH: Lawsuit filed against Cincinnati over District 5
Published: Feb. 15, 2017 at 4:11 AM EST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2017 at 4:14 AM EST
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Cincinnati Police Specialist Robert McGuire (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)
Cincinnati Police Specialist Robert McGuire (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)
Paula Hammer-Wagers (center) talked with FOX19 NOW along with the families of former District 5...
Paula Hammer-Wagers (center) talked with FOX19 NOW along with the families of former District 5 Officer Jana Cruse and Sgt. Anthony Wagers in December. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
Paula and Robert McGuire's wedding and their combined seen children. (Provided family photo)
Paula and Robert McGuire's wedding and their combined seen children. (Provided family photo)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The widow of a Cincinnati police specialist who worked at District 5 headquarters has sued the city, alleging conditions at the building caused her husband's cancer and death.

It comes after a FOX19 NOW investigation into conditions and health concerns at the Ludlow Avenue building.

Special Section: FOX19 NOW Investigates Cincinnati Police District 5

Paula Hammer-McGuire claims her husband contracted lung cancer and later died at age 51 from lung cancer complications because of conditions at District 5.

Specialist Robert McGuire was 40-years-old when he became the oldest Cincinnati police recruit. He was sworn in as an officer in 2003.

He worked at District 5 until 2006, when he was transferred to District 3. He beat colon cancer after a 2010 diagnosis, but his 2012 lung cancer wasn't as forgiving.

The father of seven - four of his own children and three step-children - died on Jan. 15, 2015, the same day District 5 Specialist Stephanie Bradford, 50, passed away from Stage 4 appendix cancer.

"During the course of Mr. McGuire's employment at District 5, he was exposed to toxic and hazardous substances," the lawsuit states.

"The City of Cincinnati was aware of the presence of toxic and hazardous substances at District 5 headquarters. The City of Cincinnati deliberately misrepresented the nature of the toxic and hazardous substances present in the building."

The suit also alleges "As a direct and proximate result of the exposure of the toxic and hazardous substances at District 5, Mr. McGuire contracted lung cancer. Mr. McGuire died to complications from lung cancer...."

The city, according to the lawsuit, "tortiously exposed Mr. McGuire to toxic and hazardous substances in or about the District 5 headquarters with the intent to injure Mr. McGuire or with the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur.

"The city of Cincinnati made a deliberate misrepresentation of a toxic or hazardous substance."

Specialist McGuire's widow has told FOX19 NOW her husband's lung cancer was a mystery to doctors.

"I firmly believe that Bob was healthy," she said in December. "For him to be diagnosed with cancer when physicians would come in the room and say 'You're healthy but you have cancer. Where do you work?'"

"I've heard that so many times playing in the back of my mind: 'Where do you work?'"

She has repeatedly told FOX19 NOW the city should immediately shut down District 5 and move the 129 officers and 5 civilians who work there to other quarters.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court against the city of Cincinnati and moved to federal court Downtown on Tuesday.

Her suit seeks $25,000 and a jury trial.

City officials have yet to file a response to it and declined comment.

"The Law department does not comment on active litigation," a city spokesman, Rocky Merz, wrote in an email to FOX19 NOW.

More lawsuits are expected over District 5.

"I am not surprised by this lawsuit or any others involving District Five," said Sgt. Dan Hils, president of the union that represents Cincinnati police.

"I believe the lack of effort to find a temporary place for the administrative staff of District Five to work will increase liability for the city."

[Related story: Exclusive: Attorneys say they are filing lawsuit over District 5]

FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on District 5 in Clifton in November.

Sgt. Hils exclusively invited FOX19 NOW into the police station for a lengthy tour after he said workers there raised concerns with him.

Our cameras remain the only media ones permitted inside so far to capture images Sgt. Hils described as "shameful" as he called for the city to relocate the employees who work there.

He pointed out mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.

Related story: Cincinnati FOP to Council: Move cops out of 'shameful' District 5 now]

Cincinnati city officials conducted air quality tests at Hils' request in December.

Tests for mold, radon and asbestos found the air quality in the building was typical for commercial buildings, according to City Manager Harry Black.

There also is no known link between the building and cancers.

[Related story: City Manager: Air quality tests give District 5 'clean bill of health']

Earlier this week, however, the city manager announced District 5 detectives and other employees who spend most of their shift in the building can temporarily move to other facilities if they want until a new headquarters is ready.

Last month, Black also recommended City Council act in May to set aside $7 million to $10 million in June in the 2018 budget to completely renovate the city's old permit center on Central Parkway for a new District 5 police headquarters.

The soonest the building could open is 2019, he has said, but some council members want District 5 shut down sooner.

It covers a large portion around the University of Cincinnati and overall serves Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Northside and Winton Hills.

Problems and overcrowded quarters are nothing new at the 58-year-old building designed to be more of a park shelter facility than a police station.

Police commanders past and present have unsuccessfully tried for years to find ways to build a new headquarters.

Most recently, in 2015, District 5's commander, Captain Bridget Bardua, told a City Council committee in a detailed presentation with photos the building had mold, asbestos, mice, bugs and a leaky roof.

Council, however, ultimately declined to build a new facility.

Now, after our investigation, concerns arose over a pattern of at least 30 past and present District 5 officers who have been diagnosed with cancer, including several who have died, according to Sgt. Hils.

He said our reporting has prompted officers with health concerns and those who have been touched by cancer to come to him and share their stories.

Six who died in 2015 and 2016 concern him in particular, he has said. Five of them spent most of their shifts in the building.

Sgt. Hils said he thinks there could be a link between the building and cancer.

[Related story: Cancer doctor has concerns about District 5 police station]

Nationally, one in two men and one in three women will develop cancer in their lifetime, according to data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute. One in four men will be diagnosed with cancers they have a risk of dying from; one in five women will.

Hammer-McGuire's lawyer, Marc Mezibov, said it's not clear yet what's making past and present District 5 officers sick but it's clear there is a problem.

"The number of people who work or who have worked at District 5 getting cancer is disappropriate with the cancer rates in the area," he said. "We hope the city realizes the gravity of the situation and we approach this collaboratively to find out what has caused this unusual number of illnesses and try get to the bottom of it and see if the people who were harmed by this situation are properly cared for."

He is waiting for the city to release a variety of records he has requested and hopes to review soon including previous air quality tests and lists of chemicals used in pesticides sprayed or used in the building.

The police union and FOX19 NOW also has had similar requests into the city for several weeks.

While recent air quality tests show no issues, according to the city, it appears they also can't locate or perhaps never had records before 2010.

"No records of previous air quality testing, radon, or mold at this location exist," Black wrote City Council in a Nov. 28 memo.

One of the city's most prominent civil rights leaders, Bishop Bobby Hilton, asked council last month to have a cancer outlier study conducted comparing District 5's cancer rate with ones at the city's other four police districts, or headquarters.

He got involved after his youngest sister, Angela Hilton, a longtime District 5 officer, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in early December.

Citing medical privacy laws, however, the city administration has declined to release that information so far.

But most council members have told FOX19 NOW they see merit in such a study determining that data for them to consider.

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