So, last month, we reported that a 911 dispatcher who got a call reporting the horrific and racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, was set to be fired because she was accused of being rude to the caller, who was ducked down behind a customer service desk and whispering, and she hung up on her. Well, now that dispatcher has been fired and she appears to be trying to blame the caller for what happened.
According to the Buffalo News, Sheila E. Ayers worked for Erie County’s Central Police Services Department for eight years. Here’s what Latisha Rogers, an assistant office manager at the Jefferson Avenue Tops location where the shooting took place, said she experienced when she called 911 and Ayers picked up.
“She was yelling at me, saying, ‘Why are you whispering? You don’t have to whisper,’” Rogers said. “And I was telling her, ‘Ma’am, he’s still in the store. He’s shooting. I’m scared for my life. I don’t want him to hear me. Can you please send help?’ She got mad at me, hung up in my face.”
The News noted that when Rogers told her story to other news outlets, she mentioned that she had dropped her phone and when she picked it back up, she realized the dispatcher had hung up. This, of course, led to uncertainty about who hung up on whom. And it appears that because Rogers didn’t mention dropping her phone the first time she told her story, Ayers is claiming she has changed her story “multiple times.”
Ayers insisted: “I’m being attacked for one side of the story.”
Yeeeeeah, but here’s the thing:
First of all, forgetting one detail in your initial story and then recalling that detail later on doesn’t constitute changing a story “multiple times.” We’re talking about someone who had been through unimaginable trauma. Someone who could very well have been among the 10 Black people who died in that shooting. Maybe Ayers knows about some third or fourth version of the story that hasn’t been reported—but as far as we know, there are only two versions of Roger’s story with only one detail differentiating them.
Secondly, the hang-up, however it happened, wasn’t the only issue. The issue was Ayers handling of the call in general. Ayers is accused of yelling at Rogers and telling her not to whisper. Who yells at someone who is in the midst of a life and death situation? And why would a dispatcher demand that an emergency caller stop whispering? There are countless reasons someone calling 911 might have to keep her voice low. Maybe the caller is a domestic violence victim hiding from her abuser. Maybe it’s a call about a home intruder by someone who doesn’t want to be detected by said intruder. Or maybe—maybe it’s a caller who’s trying not to get shot by the gun-wielding racist who’s in a grocery store gunning down every Black face he sees.
From the News:
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said in the days after the incident that Ayers disregarded her training and that the way she responded to the caller was “completely wrong.”
The county’s call center receives area 911 calls made from mobile phones. Poloncarz said that call takers are trained to recognize that if the person on the other end of the phone is whispering, that means the caller is likely in danger. That danger does not just include active shooters, but also incidents of domestic violence.
After Rogers’ allegations surfaced, Central Police Services administrators spent the next day reviewing all 911 calls made during the shooting and identified the call in question, Poloncarz said. While it’s not clear who hung up on whom, he said, the call taker’s response to Rogers was still “completely unacceptable.”
So Ayers’ whole “one side of the story” claim probably won’t hold up too well when there’s a recording of the call. Still, Denise Szymura, president of Civil Service Employees Association Local 815, said the union will file a grievance regarding Ayers’ termination, which apparently is standard protocol whenever any CSEA employee is fired by the county.
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