Sunday, June 11, 2006

Detroit 911 Dispatchers Charged

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has announced the filing of charges against Sharon Nichols and Terri Sutton. The two were dispatchers in Detroit on February 20, 2006, when Robert Turner, 5 years old, called 911 to report that his mother had collapsed and needed help. The boy was told tht he shouldn't play on the phone and was told he could get in trouble with the cops if he didn't stop. The boy called back 4 hours later. This time an officer was dispatched . . . but, not to assist to his mother. Rather, the dispatcher sent the officer officer to discipline the child and inform the mother that her son was making prank 911 calls. The mother passed away as a result of her medical condition. A civil suit was filed alleging that the mother would have lived had emergency personnel been dispatched in a timely fashion. Nichols received a five day suspension. Sutton received a three day suspension. Both have now returned to work.

The charges are for wilful Neglect of Duty, a misdemeanor. The maximum possible punishment for the offense is one year in jail. Audio files of the 911 calls, transcripts of the calls and a recitation of the criminal statute are available at the web site for the Detroit Free Press. There is also an article available online from the Detroit News.

I am going to be keeping an eye on this one mainly to see how the matter is handled by the prosecutor and the city. On the one hand you have the City administration's attitude about the matter, reflected in the fact that the dispatchers each received a suspension for less than a week and are back doing the same job. That would also seem to imply that the City administration does not believe that the dispatchers present an ongoing risk to the community if put back to work in the same positions. The actions of the CityAdministration may also reflect problems with the case against the dispatchers that the administration believes are more significant than the prosecutor does. However, it hard to make any definitive assessments about the City's handling of the matter. Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings has declined to comment because the matter is still subject to an ongoing internal investigation. Apparently, the disciplinary action is not final and may be modified depending one what information is uncovered by the investigation.

On the other hand, the prosecutor seems to believe the actions or inaction of the dispatchers are signifacant enough to warrant criminal charges. According to the prosecutor, "Neither operator treated this as an emergency." The prosecutor refused to comment on whether the two should have been fired. But, he did state that, "They should not be taking 911 calls."

As a prosecutor, these types of cases are always present a mine field of problems. It will be interesting to see how this case is handled to control damage between the city police department and the prosecutor's office.

Other news links:

Boys Ignored 911 Call Lead To Charges


At June 24, 2006 9:19 AM, Blogger Anonymous Law Student said...

I know I should be smarter about this...but when I first read this article I had a knee jerk reaction. I'm sure that 911 dispatchers get all sorts of prank calls....but I've listened to the audio of this several times and for the life of me, I can't tell why this dispatcher decided it wasn't an emergency.

I don't think she should be a dispatcher. This screw up cost someone their life.


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