things can go so wrong so quickly…. when misinformation is relayed, it really can cost people their lives. over the past several years working as a dispatcher, i KNOW that i have given misinformation. we all do it…we are humans that make mistakes. for me, i have been so fortunate that no one lost a life or was seriously injured because of information i relayed to my responders. this article simply reinforces that it truly does happen…people do lose their lives from one seemingly small mistake….
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Gwinnett County 911 operator was suspended one day for recording incorrect information in a July incident that escalated into the officer-related shooting deaths of two women.
On July 21, 2009, Raines handled a Gwinnett County 911 call from 74-year-old Barbara Baker, who was seeking help for her suicidal daughter, Penny Schwartz, 51. Baker told the operator Schwartz was threatening to shoot herself.
Phil Raines, a seven-year employee, forfeited a day of paid vacation in April to satisfy the suspension, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.
When the operator asked if the daughter had a gun, Baker responded, “I think she does. I don’t know.” In the text of the 911 call, the operator entered the following: “No 69 [gun] in the house.”
Officer Lyndsey K. Perry, entering a Duluth house without backup and her gun holstered, was met by an armed Schwartz. In the encounter, Baker and Schwartz were shot and killed.
An investigative report said Raines erred in stating unequivocally there were no guns in the caller’s house when Baker seemed far from certain.
“Your comment should have been something to the effect that it was unknown whether there were guns in the house,” the document concluded. “The report noted that operators are trained to summarize statements from callers, but in this instance the summarization [sic] changed the meaning of what the caller said. Whether or not this statement impacted the responding officer’s approach to the situation is debatable, but it was your responsibility to record the most accurate information possible, and that was not done.”
Perry was exonerated of the shooting in February. She told investigators Baker invited her into the home and immediately warned, “My daughter has a gun and she is going to shoot you. You have to shoot her.”
Moments later, Perry heard Schwartz coming downstairs, cursing and calling out, “Are they there? Are they there yet?”
Schwartz had a revolver trained on the officer when she emerged around a corner at the base of the stairs. The officer opened fire, striking both Schwartz and her mother. Even as she was dying on the kitchen floor, Schwartz yelled at the officer, “Shoot me, kill me and get it over with!”
An internal investigation released in February found Perry acted in self-defense in shooting Schwartz and Baker was accidentally caught in the crossfire. The internal investigation also determined the dispatcher, who relayed the incorrect information from Raines to the officer, committed no wrongdoing.
Raines formally appealed the suspension, but was unsuccessful in arguing that he correctly summarized the 911 call.
Jody Ahlfinger, Schwartz’s sister and Baker’s daughter, said the operator’s light suspension was outrageous and he should have been fired.
“That’s a huge mistake,” Ahlfinger said. “That’s the kind of mistake that cost two people their lives.”