The Colorado Springs Gazette reported on a 911 emergency operator in Houston who routinely hung up on emergency callers and faces misdemeanors charges of interfering with emergency calls. In one such call, the operator, Crenshda Williams, received a call from a store where a robbery was underway. Ms. Williams disconnected the call. The caller dialed 911 a second time, reaching another operator; however, by the time authorities arrived, the manager had died from gunshots. The district attorney can only bring misdemeanor charges with a maximum of 1-year in jail, as state law restricts felony charges in such cases.
Emergency Operator Liability
Powerphone offers training for emergency dispatch call centers, and addressed liability for public safety response operators and dispatchers as follows:
- Adherence to employee training with concise documentation is a key.
- Ways centers expose themselves:
- Equipment or system failures.
- Being understaffed, insufficiently responding to emergency calls.
- Dispatching the wrong responding unit, or a failure to respond.
- Best practices for reducing liability:
- Exhaustive employee screening.
- Maintaining documentation of training standards.
- Ensuring staffing levels are optimal for all shifts.
- Conducting consistent, random monitoring of operator calls.
Recent Colorado Court Ruling
In 2016, a US District Court denied to rehear a District Court for Colorado case involving a Denver 911 operator. Jimma Pal Reat called 911 reporting a group of men smashed his windshield with bottles while traveling along 10th Avenue in Denver. He told Juan Rodriguez, the operator, he had escaped to the city of Wheat Ridge and that one assailant had a gun.
Rodriguez told him that since the incident occurred in Denver, he must return to the city to get help from police. Pal Reat pleaded with Rodriguez to dispatch police to his current location, but soon conceded and began traveling back to Denver. Rodriguez told him to stop at a 29th Avenue location in Denver.
When asked, Rodriguez confirmed the police were dispatched—although they were not. Moments later, the assailants appeared and shot and killed Pal Reat; Rodriguez then dispatched the police.
Mr. Pal Reat's estate charged Rodriguez, the City, and County of Denver. The latter two were dismissed leaving charges solely against Rodriguez. The defense claimed to have qualified immunity from civil suits which exist to shield government personnel as long as their actions “do not violate statutory or constitutional rights recognizable by a reasonable person.
Mr. Pal Reat's estate believed Rodriguez caused his danger and death in violation of the 14th amendment, by directing him back toward the attackers.
The court's decision to rule in summary judgment for Rodriguez and grant qualified immunity was based on:
- That Rodriguez's actions were foolish; however, didn't limit the liberty of Pal Reat to take actions on his own behalf.
- He was not in state custody, and thus had freedom to act.
Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal has been protecting victims in Colorado for many years. Contact the office today for a consultation to review the details of your case.