West Hollywood Councilman John Duran offered an apology on Monday to the family of Brett Shaad, who died from meningitis over the weekend. Duran held a press conference on Friday about the Shaad tragedy, which sparked national media coverage.
“Please offer my deep condolences to the Shaad family,” Duran wrote in a press statement. “Please communicate my apology for intruding into the family's privacy during this difficult time.”
Earlier on Monday, Brian Shaad, Brett's older brother, released a statement on Brett's Facebook page condemning Duran's and the media's handling of the death. Also on Monday, more than 1,000 meningitis vaccinations were given at AIDS Healthcare Foundation's West Hollywood pharmacy.
The Shaad family remains outraged with Duran's and the media's handling of Brett Shaad's death.
Duran held a press conference on Friday in which he said Shaad had been taken off life support and died, which was reported by the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times.
But while the West Hollywood attorney had been declared “brain dead” by Cedars-Sinai doctors on Friday, he had not been taken off life support. The Shaad family made that difficult decision on Saturday evening, and Shaad's heart stopped beating at 6:42 p.m.
On Monday, Brian Shaad wrote on his brother's Facebook page, “The irresponsibility of Councilman Duran, the L.A. Times and the Associated Press in announcing the death of my brother before we even had the chance to tell family members and his friends outside of Los Angeles is outrageous.”
He added, “There are a number of steps we will be taking to ensure that politically-driven actions by politicians and reckless reporting by the media can never do this to another grieving family again.”
Brian Shaad also stated, “To add insult to injury, the first article published wasn't even about my brother Brett. It was about Councilman John Duran, alongside a large, color photo of the councilman in the L.A. Times.”
Duran released a statement on Monday in which he apologized for “intruding into the family's privacy during this difficult time.”
Duran further stated, “Contrary to what was reported by some media outlets, I did not release Brett's name at the press conference at City Hall. I specifically stated that the name was not being released due to privacy issues.
“Later that evening, I did confirm Brett's identity after the media had already discovered his name on their own.
“I was placed in the difficult position of respecting his privacy while at the same time being responsible for the public health in my city. I did everything I could to balance those two objectives for as long as possible.”
Some in L.A.'s gay community have wondered aloud if Duran's public reaction to Shaad's death and AIDS Healthcare Foundation's offer of free meningitis vaccines have been “alarmist.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein points out that meningitis outbreaks among men who have sex with men in Toronto, in 2001, and Chicago, in 2003, quickly stalled after vaccinations were offered in those cities.
“An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure,” Weinstein tells L.A. Weekly. Referring to the early days of the AIDS epidemic, he adds, “We've been down this road before of not taking this stuff seriously.”
“The anything-goes crowd doesn't want to turn the music down even one decibel for safety's sake,” says Weinstein about critics.
“The bottom line is, health concerns are, and will continue to be, one of the most difficult challenges gay men face,” says Weinstein. “It's somewhat built into the lifestyle. That's not a judgment. That's a reality.”
Read the L.A. Weekly cover story “Gay Happiness, the New Frontier.”
On Monday, at AHF's West Hollywood pharmacy, Weinstein says, 1,100 meningitis vaccinations were given between 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. At times, there were at least 70 people waiting in line to receive the vaccination.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has so far been cautious in the aftermath of the Shaad death — too cautious for Weinstein.
“To the best of my knowledge,” he says, “they haven't done anything… They're not vaccinating, they're not holding town hall meetings, they're not alerting.”
At a news conference last Friday, Dr. Maxine E. Liggins of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said an investigation into the Shaad case was ongoing and that a meningitis outbreak in the L.A. area has not taken hold.
Weinstein, though, says that 22 meningitis cases have been identified in New York City since 2010, including seven deaths, among men who have sex with men. That's cause for alarm if that New York strain made its way to California through the White Party in Palm Springs, which was held in late March. Gay men from around the country went to that event.
According to the Associated Press, Councilman Duran said that Shaad, a 33-year-old gay man, attended the White Party. A friend of Shaad's has told WeHo News that Shaad never attended the event, but he was in Palm Springs that same weekend.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.