Detroit Dispatchers Face Charges for Ignoring Child's Pleas

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Two 911 dispatchers who authorities say failed to respond when a 5-year-old boy called the emergency line to say his mother had collapsed have been charged with willful neglect of duty, the county prosecutor said Wednesday.

Sharon Nichols, 43, and Terri Sutton, 47, face up to a year in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor.

The operators wrongly assumed that the call was a prank, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said at a news conference.

"Neither operator treated this as an emergency," she said.

Detroit police investigated the dispatchers' actions. Nichols received a five-day suspension and Sutton received three days, Worthy said. She said both returned to work.

Worthy refused to say if the two should have been fired but added, "They should not be taking 911 calls."

No arraignment date had been scheduled, she said.

A message seeking comment was left Wednesday for Kimberly Harris, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1023, which represents the 911 dispatchers.

Robert Turner, who now is 6, called 911 at 5:59 p.m. on Feb. 20 to report that his mother, Sherrill Turner, had collapsed and needed medical care.

Nichols took the call "and spoke to him for approximately 43 seconds," Worthy said. "She failed to adhere to the pattern of questioning designed to evaluate a call, and she failed to treat the call as an emergency. No police car was sent."

Robert again called 911 at 9:02 p.m. and spoke to Sutton, Worthy said.

Sutton, who spoke with him for 76 seconds, also ignored proper questioning techniques, the prosecutor said.

"She labeled the call as a prank and allegedly only sent a police car out to discipline the child and inform the parent that the child was dialing 911," Worthy said.

By the time police arrived, the boy's 46-year-old mother was dead.

"I understand they get a quite a few crank calls, but you have to take it seriously when someone calls 911," Worthy said.

In a February interview on NBC-TV's "Today" show, Robert said he knew the second operator did not believe him.

"She thought I was playing on the phone," the boy said.

Prominent personal injury lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who is best known for defending assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city on behalf of the family.

Fieger said Robert's mother, who had an enlarged heart, would have survived if help had been sent immediately.

Worthy said she agreed that Sherrill Turner might be alive today had the dispatchers done their jobs correctly.


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