April 10, 2006 – The family of a dying woman, whose 5-year-old son was scolded by a 911 operator while trying to report that his mother had collapsed, is suing the city of Detroit.
The family's lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, held 6-year-old Robert Turner's hand Monday as Robert tearfully explained the Feb. 20 incident.
“She wasn’t breathing,” Robert sobbed.
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"Stop Playing on the Phone"
He said that his “mommy” had taught him how to dial 911, and he called emergency dispatchers twice to explain what happened, but they didn’t believe him.
“Stop playing on the phone,” Robert said the 911 operator told him.
According to 911 tapes, Robert first dialed around 6 p.m., and the operator told him to bring an adult to the phone. He told the operator that he couldn't.
"She's not gonna talk...she's not gonna talk," Robert tried explaining. The operator told him that she would send police to his home, and then hung up the phone, according to the 911 tapes.
Three hours later, still no police and no rescue unit, Robert dialed 911 again and was verbally attacked:
"My mom has passed out," a frustrated Robert told emergency operators.
The dispatcher then asked, "Where's the grown-ups at?”... "Let me speak to her before I send the police over there."
Once again Robert tried telling her that she couldn't talk.
"You shouldn't be playing on the phone,” the operator yelled in anger. “Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you’re going to be in trouble."
Robert said he was scared and hung up the phone.
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Death Could Have Been Prevented
By the time police responded to the call, 46-year-old Sherill Turner was dead. EMS never came.
Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings said in a statement Saturday that the calls are under investigation. She declined other comments "due to imminent or pending litigation."
Kimberly Harris, president of the union local representing the 911 operators told The Detroit News that Robert's voice was muffled at times during the call and the public shouldn't rush to judge.
But James Harrington, a lawyer in Fieger's firm, wasn't trying to hear it.
"The bottom line is they didn't do anything," Harrington said. "They could have prevented her death.
"Think about it from the child's perspective. He calls 911 as his mother taught him to do. They don't send anyone," The Detroit News reported.
Speaking to CNN Monday, Fieger said that Robert's mom, who had an enlarged heart, could have survived if the 911 operators had listened to the boy.
"Even though Robert knew calling 911 was the right thing to do, Fieger said, "he had to sit there while his mom died in front of him."
The 911 operator, who took the last call, has been on the job for 18 years and remains on the job.
“Every time someone starts talking about her [my mom], I just burst out and start crying,” Robert said.
Robert is now staying with relatives.
Other 911 Troubles
Fieger has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family.
Meanwhile, Robert's 911 troubles join a long list of cases nationwide in which emergency workers did not come to the rescue of people in trouble.
Just last week, sheriff's deputies ignored calls from a stabbing victim in Anderson, S.C., according to the Anderson Independent Mail.
In 1994, at least 20 people called 911 to report the beating of a 16-year-old boy in Philadelphia who later died. In that case, seven operators were either disciplined or fired.
In 2000, three 911 operators in New York were disciplined for their response to several women, complaining that they were being assaulted by gangs of youths during a Puerto Rican Day parade.
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