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NC5 Investigates: 911 Emergency

911 Officials Say No Excuse for Response

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Sheila Jones, 911 caller Sheila Jones, 911 caller
Terry Griffith, interim 911 director Terry Griffith, interim 911 director
Ronal Serpas, Metro Nashville police chief Ronal Serpas, Metro Nashville police chief

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Our exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation first uncovered a 911 call that's now the talk of the country.

So why didn't a Nashville woman get the help that she needed?

That's what our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams has been investigating -- and he had some tough questions for city officials.

As we first revealed, when Sheila Jones needed help, help never came.

That despite repeated calls to Metro Nashville's 911 over a three-hour stretch about an ex-boyfriend who'd assaulted her and was threatening to come back.

Sheila to 911:"They ain't sent nobody. I just don't understand. Is it 'cause I'm black? Is it 'cause of the neighborhood. What is it?"

And our investigation discovered, this is how one of the last calls ended:

Sheila: "I'm scared to even leave out my f***ing house."
911: "OK, ma'am, I updated the call. We'll get somebody there as soon as possible."
Sheila: [Hangs up.]
911: "I really just don't give a s**t what happens to you."

When Phil Williams played that tape, it was the first time she'd heard that remark.

"I think I'm more hurt than I am mad that my life didn't mean a damn thing to them," she said.

Phil asked Metro's interim 911 director Terry Griffith, "What kind of excuse is there for that?"

"None, it's awful," she responded.

Griffith also hadn't heard those words until we began our investigation. All her staff had given her was a report that described it in general terms.

"I think that generally we choose to say inappropriate remark, unacceptable remark," she said.

"But this was really inappropriate," Phil interjected.

"Totally inappropriate," she agreed.

And when Phil played it for Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas, it was the first time that he had actually heard it for himself.

"Yeah, I've heard about that," the chief said. "And my understanding is the employee is no longer with us."

Phil asked Griffith, "Was he fired right on the spot?"

"No," she admitted, "I don't think he was fired right on the spot, no."

911 officials say the calltaker was a trainee who was fired back in March -- not for the comment, but for flunking his final exam.

"Does that say something about the environment at 911?" Phil asked Chief Serpas.

"Oh, I don't think so," he answered. "It says something about that individual employee."

Still, the chief says that comment alone would have been enough to fire him.

"That type of call, handled that way, particularly that statement if that came to me as a disciplinary question, oh, it would absolutely be termination."

Still, the biggest problem may not have been that comment, which Sheila Jones never heard.

It was a string of errors that effectively put her call for help on hold.

For example, police say it wasn't coded as a domestic violence incident. So, with other calls coming in, the officer initially assigned the call decided it wasn't his highest priority.

"I do not believe and I cannot believe that if officers thought they were responding to a domestic violence call in progress, they would have broken off to do something else," Serpas told Phil.

At one point, a kindly 911 operator did call Sheila back to check on her and let her know police would soon be there.

911: "Just stay inside. But if he shows back up, you call back on 911, OK?"
Sheila: "OK."
911: "But they're coming to you, sweetie, OK?"
Sheila: "OK."

The problem is: it wasn't true.

"That is an error," Griffith said.

"If an officer is not on the way, you don't tell them that?" Phil asked.

"No, we don't."

Then, at shift change, the 911 computers deleted records about Sheila's call.

"This poor woman," said Serpas, "was not given the service she needed in our community. Anybody who thinks she did is wrong."

Sheila asked, "I'm a taxpayer. I pay bills. Where is my money going. Who is protecting me?"

She says she fears that the one 911 operator's comment speaks volumes about how they feel about the people they are supposed to serve.

"How would you feel if that had happened to your wife?" Phil asked Serpas.

The chief answered, "I think my job is to wonder what we would do to make sure it doesn't happened to anybody's wife."

Griffith said she feels "terrible about it. I don't want that to happen to anybody that needs us. And I really apologize to her."

The 911 director said that every time there's a mistake, it's used for training to make sure that the mistakes are not repeated.

This, she added, will definitely be a learning experience.

911 Operator: 'I Don't Give a S***t'
(Listen to 911 Calls)

More 911 Tapes Show Lives Endangered
(Listen to 911 Calls)

Mayor Replaces 911's Interim Director

Chief 'Mad as Hell,' Leads to 911 Shakeup

Back to NC5 Investigates: 911 Emergency
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