The attorney representing the family of a deceased Marine recruit has served Beaufort County and its coroner with "a notice of intent to sue" that, according to county officials, said the family might file a lawsuit seeking $25 million in damages.
"That's notice to us that a lawsuit is, more likely than not, imminent," Beaufort County Attorney Tom Keaveny said Friday afternoon.
In addition to monetary damages, Keaveny said, the notice — received Thursday from the office of Shiraz Khan, representing the family of Raheel Siddiqui — stated his clients want Siddiqui's death certificate amended to reclassify the cause and manner of death, the time of death and the place of death as "pending/undetermined," Keaveny said.
Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen classified the March 2016 death as a suicide and was recently quoted as saying he sees no reason to change that determination. When reached Friday morning by phone, Allen said he could not comment on pending litigation, which Keaveny said is the county's policy.
When reached Friday afternoon, Khan said his office had issued a notice of claim and that his clients requested changes to the certificate of death and "other relief."
News of the potential lawsuit comes a day after the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News reported that Khan said Medical University of South Carolina Hospital in Charleston — the facility where the Marine Corps says Siddiqui died after a three-story fall at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island — did not have a record of the former trainee in its master patient index.
Hospital spokesperson Heather Woolwine said Friday that the facility had also received a "notice of claim" from Khan's office but had not been served with a lawsuit.
The master patient index is the hospital's electronic medical record, Woolwine said, adding that privacy laws prevented her from confirming or denying whether Siddiqui was treated at the facility.
Woolwine said there are "rare" scenarios in which a name might not appear in the index.
One could be a misspelling, she said — if the name was entered incorrectly but the party searching for the patient was using the correct spelling, the record might not be found.
Another could be an instance where a trauma patient was rushed to MUSC Hospital from another facility. The patient might be quickly admitted and entered as, for example, "Trauma 1" — meaning the first trauma patient of the day — before dying during treatment, and before the patient's information caught up to them from the other facility.
Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Taylor, Mich., native, died after leaping from his barracks, according to the Corps. But he was reportedly ill, and was struck by a drill instructor after being made to perform a series of punitive sprints just before the fall. In November, then-Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix was convicted at a court-martial of abusing Siddiqui and hitting him in the face moments before the trainee ran out the back of the barracks and fell from the third story.
The Siddiqui family has received conflicting information about the time of their son's death, the Detroit newspapers reported.
The Detroit News reported the certificate of death (certified by Allen) lists the time of death as 5:45 a.m. March 18, 2016 — which would have been just a few minutes after the fall — while the autopsy lists it as 10:45 a.m.
Allen told the Free Press he might have made a typo and that Siddiqui died closer to 10:45 a.m.
A Marine Corps command investigation of the incident listed the time of death as 10:06 a.m.
The Corps, according to the Free Press, maintains Siddiqui did indeed die at MUSC in Charleston.
"When it comes to medical records, when it comes to anything involving (medical) treatment of someone, there's an old saying," Khan told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. "If you didn't record it, it didn't happen."
He said excuses such as misspellings would not stand up in court.
"The facts will speak for themselves," Khan said.
"We will pursue any course of action permitted to us under the law against any and all parties involved in this matter," he said.
In October, Khan filed a $100 million lawsuit against the federal government. Siddiqui's parents and plaintiffs Ghazala Siddiqui and Masood Siddiqui claim their son was "assaulted, hazed and discriminated against because of his Muslim faith." The lawsuit also alleges the government was negligent in declaring his death a suicide shortly after the fall, before a full investigation was conducted.
Siddiqui's death spawned a hazing and abuse probe at Parris Island that resulted in numerous courts-martial of drill instructors, and of then-3rd Recruit Training Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon.
In March, Kissoon pleaded guilty at court-martial at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., admitting that he improperly assigned Felix — who was under investigation for recruit abuse — to Siddiqui's platoon. Kissoon was fined $1,000 for five months and will retire early, potentially at a lower rank.
Felix was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for abusing Siddiqui and two other Muslim recruits on Parris Island.