SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – A boy who was scolded by a 911 operator while trying to get help for his dying mother is not the only Detroit resident whose emergency call wasn't taken seriously by a dispatcher, the boy's lawyer said.
In a series of calls in January 2005, a 911 operator questioned the sanity of a Detroit woman who reported she had been shot in the head. An emergency crew didn't arrive until after the woman called her son and got him to call for help, attorney Geoffrey Fieger said.
Fieger played tapes of the woman's phone calls Monday as he announced a wrongful-death lawsuit against two unnamed dispatchers in the case of 6-year-old Robert Turner, whose mother died Feb. 20 before police arrived.
He said he also represents the other woman, Lorraine Hayes, who he said became paralyzed as a result of her injuries. She sued Detroit dispatchers in October.
In her first call, Lorraine Hayes calmly asked for an ambulance, gave her address and said she had been shot in the head. The operator asked if she was male or female and Hayes stumbled, first saying she was male and then correcting herself.
After some more questions, the operator asked: "Are you a mental patient?"
"My body is numb. I'm getting ready to die," Hayes said at one point.
The operator said she did not believe Hayes would be able to call if she was shot in the head and told her she would get in trouble if she was making a false report.
Detroit's 911 service receives about 2 million calls a year, said police spokesman James Tate. A large portion of them are pranks or non-emergency situations for which 911 should not be used, he said.
Detroit police have said they are investigating the 911 response in Sherrill Turner's death.
The lawsuit filed on her son's behalf does not name an amount. It also does not name the city because state law prohibits it, however Fieger, best known for defending assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, said the city should be liable for its employees.
Robert, then 5, was alone with his mother when she collapsed in the bedroom.
He called 911 and told the operator that his mother had passed out, but the operator asked to speak with an adult.
When he called back about three hours later, he repeated that his mother had passed out. Another operator said: "You shouldn't be playing on the phone." Later, she said: "Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you gonna be in trouble."
Police eventually arrived at the house after the second call, but Sherrill Turner was dead. An ambulance never came.