The state of Nevada has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit by paying $125,000 to a former state forestry dispatcher who was fired after telling her supervisors that she was pregnant. Tawnya Meyer, 32, was fired in March 2007, and is now working in Oregon. Her case was taken up by the U.S. Department of Justice as a civil rights violation, and last May the agency filed a federal lawsuit against the Nevada Division of Forestry. Yesterday, the state’s Board of Examiners agreed to settle the lawsuit, after being told by the state attorney general’s office that Meyer could receive up to $374,000 if the case went to trial and the jury found for the plaintiff. According to the lawsuit, Meyer notified her supervisor that she was pregnant, and would need to be off from work during the busy summer fire season. Shortly after, her doctor ordered her to take leave. During that leave, the DOJ alleged that her supervisor and two fire managers met and decided to fire Meyer because of her pregnancy, and to replace her with a non-pregnant employee. The DOJ noted that such an action is clearly illegal under federal civil rights laws. The lawsuit also alleged that the supervisors and another dispatcher made inappropriate remarks to Meyer about her pregnancy in the period before she was fired. Read the DOJ’s May announcement of the lawsuit filing, information about unlawful discrimination involving pregnancy in the workplace here, a news account of the settlement, and download (pdf) the federal lawsuit court documents here.
A Parker County (Tex.) sheriff’s dispatcher answered a ringing 911 line at 12:30 a.m. yesterday, and with remarkable patience and compassion listened to and talked with a 15 year-old boy who confessed to fatally shooting his mother and sister. The unnamed female dispatcher spoke to Jake Evans, 17, for 25 minutes as deputies drove to his home in a rural gated community west of Dallas, reassuring him of help, asking him questions, and ultimately leading him to safely surrender. “We’re going to help you, we’re not going to hurt you,” the dispatcher told Evans at one point. After Evans said he worried about having nightmares, the dispatcher told him, ‘I’m sure your family will get you the support you need.” Police say Evans used a .22-cal. revolver to shoot his relatives several times. A motive for the shootings isn’t clear, even after listening to the 911 call. Throughout the call, the dispatcher showed no signs of judgement or disgust through her voice, but instead created a personal connection and built trust with Evans to safely end the incident. As deputies moved into position outside Evans’ home, the dispatcher instructed him on how to surrender. “Just walk very slowly, and walk outside, and keep your hands visible, alright, sweetie? I’ll talk to you later.” Listen to the entire 911 call here.
The third-largest city in the United States has just 16 radio technicians to install and maintain all of its radio systems, and now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for public comment on Chicago’s request for 24 more months to narrowband its VHF and UHF radio systems. The FCC received the city’s waiver request (pdf) last May, and now wants input from others, “whose operations could be impacted by the grant of the waiver.” In its 31-page waiver request, Chicago officials noted the city’s size and population, number of visitors and its key commerce and industry role. The city employs 13,000 police officers, 4,500 firefighters and 650 paramedic to provide emergency services. The waiver request notes the various systems and narrowband upgrades the city has already performed: citywide police use a seven-site UHF system (14 new transmitters); “zone” police use a 13-site UHF system (26 new transmitters); and the fire department uses a 16-site system (32 new transmitters). The city has already purchased 15,000 new narrowband radios, the waiver states, and a T-band UHF narrowband network for the fire department is almost complete. “Yet, despite its considerable effort and significant investment to date, Chicago recognizes that it lacks the necessary manpower and resources to finalize the completion of the narrowbanding of all of its VHF/UHF facilities by January 1, 2013,” the waiver says. The city cites “numerous demands on its limited number of radio technicians and the additional burdens on the City’s budget and financial restraints” for not narrowbanding within the Jan. 1, 2013 deadline. Download (pdf) the FCC’s comment request here.
Within the next month, the most famous radio license callsign in public safety history will be assigned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the initial step in creating a first-ever nationwide wireless network for first responders. In a Public Notice issued yesterday, the Commission said it intends to grant the D Block of 700 Hz spectrum to the newly-formed First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to create the network, the culmination of years of promises and work to unify and streamline public safety communications in the United States. The FirstNet board met last week and submitted a formal request for the spectrum in a letter to the FCC. Now, 30 days after the FCC publishes its notice of intent in the Federal Register, the Commission will issue the spectrum license to FirstNet, along with the block’s notable radio callsign. There is no word if the traditional format of letters and numbers for a FCC radio callsign will have any special significance for the nationwide license, such as including the numbers “911.” Work on creating a nationwide broadband network began after the 2001 terrorist attacks, but projects to assign exclusive spectrum to public safety pre-dates even that year. The project has weathered various technical and political battles over the last decade. The last piece of the project—funding—seems to have been assured last month when the FCC allocated $7 billion to FirstNet from the proceeds of a broadcast TV spectrum auction. Download (pdf) the short FCC Public Notice that announces the FCC’s intent to allocate the spectrum, and the original Report and Order issued las month that set up the allocation. read more
The family of a murdered Colorado man filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week, claiming that a Denver 911 dispatcher improperly instructed the man to return to the scene of a road rage incident in order to file a police report. Before an officer could be dispatched, the other driver in the road rage incident re-appeared, shot into Jimma Reat’s car and killed him. The lawsuit names the city and county of Denver and 911 dispatcher Juan Jesus Rodriguez as defendants in the case. Rodriguez was fired in May over the incident. The incident occurred last April when Reat, his brother and two other men were driving in west Denver. Occupants of another car threw objects and ignited fireworks at their car as they drove along the street, and one displayed a handgun. Reat left the area and drove to his apartment house in suburban Wheat Ridge, where he called Denver police. Rodriguez incorrectly told Reat that he had to return to the city of Denver in order to make a police report. Reat said he was afraid to return to the city, according to the lawsuit, but relying “on an express promise of police protection,” he drove seven blocks back and parked just over the city line. The incident scene was about 19 blocks away. Reat parked and also turned on his car’s hazard lights, as instructed by Rodriguez, “making them visible sitting ducks to their attackers,” the lawsuit states. Shortly after, the other driver re-appeared and shot into Reat’s car, killing him. The lawsuit claims there is a pattern of misconduct and prejudice by the Denver police and its dispatchers, specifically road rage incidents and 911 calls from minorities. The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages. Update: The plaintiff’s attorney have also filed for a temporary stay of the lawsuit, “to explore potential case settlement without the pressures and deadlines of litigation.” Download (pdf) the lawsuit complaint for more details.
The family of a murdered Texas woman has filed a federal lawsuit claiming dispatchers delayed a police response to her 911 call for help last month, and that the officers who were eventually dispatched to the call stopped at a 7-Eleven store enroute to make personal purchases. Furthermore, the lawsuit claims, when officers arrived at Deanna Cook’s residence 50 minutes after her call, they knocked on her door but failed to take any other investigative actions when she didn’t respond, and left the scene without discovering that she had been murdered. Cook’s body was discovered by the family two days later, and police later arrested her ex-husband for murder. Dallas police officials say the calltaker was suspended for 10 days without pay and transferred out of the comm center for mishandling Cook’s 911 call. According to police, the 911 call lasted 11 minutes, and from the sounds on the call, the calltaker should have realized he incident was an emergency. A second calltaker was fired for mishandling the family’s phone call reporting that Cook had not reported to work and that water was coming from underneath her apartment door. Two supervisors were reprimanded for not properly monitoring incidents and dispatchers. Read more about the incident here, and download (pdf) the lawsuit court documents here.
Washington County (Ore.) 911 dispatcher Rta McQuiston met the woman who dialed 911 when her husband suffered a heart attack—and the woman’s husband, who survived because of CPR instructions that McQuiston provided. Read more about the incident and listen to the 911 call here.
A Los Angeles newspaper has revealed an internal city fire department report that is critical of the emergency medical dispatching (EMD) protocols used by the city, including that it takes an average of 4 minutes and 12 seconds to begin CPR even when a bystander is ready and willing to perform it. However, the creator of the protocols says the delays stem from the fire department using out-dated protocols and dispatchers who don’t strictly follow the protocols. The Los Angeles Times story said the fire department began an investigation of medical response times after a Times story last May noted over the past five years fewer medical incidents were dispatched within the department’s goal of 60 seconds. The department then examined the dispatch process, the newspaper says, and came up with several recommendations to speed the process of providing EMD, especially in cases of cardiac arrest. According to the LAFD, just two percent of 911 calls report a cardiac incident, and that in only about 31 percent of those incidents is CPR performed by a bystander. But when even when a bystander is agreeable, it takes the dispatcher over four minutes to begin giving instructions. Update: After this story appeared, Dr. Jeff Clawson of the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) provided the Times with a response to the story, calling into question LAFD’s proper use of the protocols, and noting the protocols are successfully used by almost 3,000 comm centers in 43 countries. Download (pdf) Clawson’s full response here. read more
Hoping to leverage Tennessee’s IP-based 911 network, AT&T announced that it will undertake a statewide trial of text-to-911 service for its cellular customers who need to report emergencies. The company acknowledged that making a voice 911 call is still the “primary and preferred” method of reporting emergencies, and pledged to work with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and other groups to integrate text messaging into existing and new 911 networks. There are only a handful of comm centers in America now accepting text messages to report emergencies, and usually from only a single carrier. The technology of text messaging has several inherent drawbacks for a critical service such as reporting police, fire and medical emergencies. Nonetheless, the service is being pushed by politicians who believe the public wants and needs the service. However, the public’s desire for the service may be small—after a one-year trial of text-to-911 in Durham (NC), dispatchers have handled just one 911 text message. The Tennessee Emergency Communications Board (TECB) has approved the trial. The press release didn’t state when the service would be available for cellular subscribers. read more
Two weeks after AT&T Wireless turned off 16 cellular transmitters to eliminate radio interference, Oakland (Calif.) police officers continue to complain about dead spots for their 800 MHz trunked radio system. Two weeks after AT&T Wireless turned off 16 cellular transmitters to eliminate radio interference, Oakland (Calif.) police officers continue to complain about dead spots for their 800 MHz trunked radio system. Update: Two days after this story appeared, AT&T announced that an independent consultant had studied the interference and determined it was not caused by the carrier’s cellular transmitters. Even so, the company says it continues to keep its 2G cellular service turned off at 16 sites in Oakland.
The Dallas (Tex.) police department is investigating the handling of a 911 call from a woman who was being attacked by her ex-husband, and whose body wasn’t discovered by arriving officers who knocked on her door. Deanna Patrick’s body was found two days later by family members who broke down her door to investigate water coming from the apartment. Patricks’s sister heard a portion of the 11-minute 911 logging tape, and says her sister was screaming for her life. DPD has not released details of the incident, but sources say Patrick dialed 911 from a cellular phone, and it took nine minutes to locate her address. Then, officers dispatched to the address were not told the details of the call, the sources said, and did not investigate beyond knocking on her door. Today the police department issued a press release saying they are investigating the comm center’s handling of the incident, and are also reviewing dispatching policies and practices. They announced they’ve already added a new incident classification to their computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system for, “a disturbance involving imminent serious bodily injury or death and requires an emergency response.” In an interview with a local newspaper, the unnamed 911 calltaker said it was obvious during the 911 call that there was a disturbance, buy beyond that, “I can’t say that I knew what was going on.” read more
Dispatchers in two regions of the country have logged legal actions in federal district court related to their jobs, one receiving a $1 million award from a jury for false arrest, and another claiming racial discrimination and retaliation. Both cases point to activities by the plaintiffs dating back several years and are directed at the employing agencies and cities. Yesterday a U.S. District Court jury found for former Battle Creek (Mich.) dispatcher, agreeing that a now-deceased Calhoun County sheriff’s deputy had her falsely arrested. In 2005 Sonte Everson claimed she was sexually assaulted by her then-boyfriend, a Battle Creek police officer. When she complained to colleagues about the investigating deputy, her lawsuit alleged she was falsely arrested—twice—and held in jail. The charges were later dropped, but Everson’s lawsuit said she was suspended from work, humiliated in public and suffered emotionally. With the verdict, the jury awarded Everson $353,000 in lost wages, $75,000 in medical expenses and $20,000 in legal fees. They also awarded her $600,000 in punitive damages, and for emotional injury, embarrassment and loss of reputation. In the second lawsuit, filed earlier this month, Arthur Kirk III alleges he was the subject of racial discrimination starting in 2008 while a Baltimore (Md.) fire dispatcher. He says he was required to undergo medical exams, was the subject of disciplinary actions, was repeatedly transferred and falsely accused of worklace violence. Kirk asks for back pay, vacation and other benefits, and for reinstatement. Download (pdf) select documents related to the Everson and Kirk lawsuits, and read more about the Everson case here, and the Kirk case here.
After years of complaints by Oakland (Calif.) police officers and firefighters about poor radio reception, city officials now they’ve now traced some problems to interference from AT&T Wireless antenna sites. Specifically, certain AT&T cellular transmitters on 850 MHz that provide 2G service are interfering with the city’s trunked radio system. The system was installed by Harris Corp., and has suffered from dead spots and various outages over the past five years. Last month the city began a comprehensive analysis of the radio network, and discovered interfering signals. The city contacted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whose technicians confirmed that AT&T Wireless transmitters were the source. In particular, one tower was generating signals that created dead zones on the city’s P25 radio system. The FCC contacted AT&T Wireless, and last Saturday at midnight, the company shut down their 850 MHz transmitters at 16 tower sites in the city. City officials didn’t say if the shut-downs have solved the radio reception problems. However, they did say they will now test AT&T tower sites in adjacent cities for interference, and are working, “around the clock to identify additional sources of interference.” Read the city’s press release (pdf) for more information.
A Congressionally-mandated project to create the nation’s first integrated public safety communications network took a significant step forward this morning when board members were named for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the agency that will lead the project. The board’s membership is considered critical by public safety officials, since the board will determine the network’s specifications, configuration and administration, including if it will include a commercial carrier component. Over 100 nominations were submitted for the positions. During the opening session at the annual Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference, acting U.S. Department of Commerce secretary Rebecca Black named 12 people to the board, representing a wide range of political, telecom and public safety backgrounds. Three additional board members were already assigned by Congress representing various federal agency heads. The membership interests include current and retired telecom, law enforcement, EMS, firefighting, and a former big-city mayor. Reaction to the appointments from the two major public safety communications groups was non-specific, limited only to statements that commended or applauded the move, but without specific member mentions. Congress funded FirstNet with $7 billion from spectrum auctions and also assigned its own spectrum for the project. read more
As least some of the radio reception problems experienced by Oakland (Calif.) police officers is the result of interference, city officials say, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has opened an enforcement investigation. The city operates a multi-site trunked radio network for its police and fire departments, but many outages and receptions glitches have plagued the system since it was first installed by GE in 1993. The current version of the radio system was supplied by Harris Corp., and in an information bulletin issued last Thursday, the mayor’s public safety advisor David Cruise said an extensive review is being made of the system to help identify solutions. He also said the city is examining a regional trunked radio system, to determine if it might support Oakland’s public safety agencies. Cruise did not provide details about the radio interference, including whether it was accidental or deliberate. City staff has concluded that numerous instances of officers reporting trouble with their radio were correlated to radio frequency (RF) interference received by the P25 radio system,” he wrote. As a result, an FCC enforcement investigation has begun. “Due to the sensitive nature of this investigation, no further information is available at this time,” Cruise said. Download (pdf) the full information report for more details.