In times of emergencies, parents are supposed to protect their children at all costs. However, life doesn’t always go as planned, which is why some parents teach their children to call 911 if something goes wrong.
Like most parents, one Detroit mother taught her 5-year-old son to call the police in case of an emergency where she couldn’t protect him. So when that day came, the little boy remained calm and did exactly what his mother taught him. Unfortunately, the adults who were supposed to help wouldn’t listen.
Just before six in the evening on February 20, 2006, a 5-year-old boy discovered his mother on the floor of their home in Detroit. His mother had collapsed and was unconscious, but instead of panicking, the brave little boy stayed calm and knew exactly what to do.
“Emergency 911, where’s the problem?” the emergency operator said when answering the boy’s call. “My mom has passed out,” the 5-year-old told the woman. However, when the operator realized the person on the line was a child, she asked to speak to a parent or an adult.
“Let me speak to him,” the dispatcher said after asking where the boy’s father was. However, at the time of the call, no one else was in the home to speak to the operator and the 5-year-old’s mother was unconscious…
“She’s not gonna talk,” said 5-year-old Robert Turner as he tried to explain that no adult could come to the phone to speak to her. “OK, well, I’m going to send the police to your house and find out what’s going on with you,” said 911 dispatcher Sharon Nichols.
Sadly, however, Nichols didn’t believe Robert when he said that his mother had passed out and needed medical attention. Instead, she believed that the young boy wasn’t being watched and decided to play a prank on a 911 operator…
Despite telling Robert that she was going to send a police officer to his home to find out what was really going on, Nichols never actually contacted any officers, as she believed there was no emergency.
Robert, however, believed that help was on the way and waited for someone to come and save his mom. Yet minutes turned to hours and no one showed up at their Detroit home to help his mother, who was actually in desperate need of medical attention…
By 9 p.m., no one had shown up to save Robert’s mother, so he decided to call 911 for the second time.”It was taking too long,” Robert said. This time, 911 operator Terri Sutton answered Robert’s call. “Emergency 911, where’s the problem?” Sutton asked Robert.
For a second time, Robert tried to explain the situation. “My mom has passed out … in her room,” the 5-year-old said. When Sutton heard the little boy’s voice, she asked to speak to an adult just like Nichols did hours earlier…
After asking where a grown-up was, Robert said that his mother was in her room. “Let me speak to her before I send the police over there,” Sutton asked even though Robert had just told her she had passed out. “She said the same thing,” Robert later said about Sutton’s response.
“She’s not gonna talk,” Robert tried to explain. “I don’t care, you shouldn’t be playing on the phone,” Sutton scolded the 5-year-old thinking he was prank calling the emergency line. “Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you’re going to be in trouble.”
“Ok, well, you know what, then she’s gonna talk to the police ok? She’s gonna talk to the police because I’m sending them over there,” Sutton said. Unlike Nichols, however, Sutton followed through with her threat to send the police.
Police officers finally arrived at the Detroit home and found Robert all alone. When they went into the bedroom where he told them his mother had passed out, the officers found 46-year-old Sherrill Turner just as Robert had described. Sadly, it was too late…
By the time the officers arrived at the scene, Sherrill, who was a mother of 10, was already dead. After an autopsy was performed, it was revealed that Sherrill had an enlarged heart and died from complications associated with the condition.
If Sherrill had received medical attention, her life could have been saved. Her family filed a wrongful death suit against the city and accused the 911 operators of mishandling a phone call after they failed to listen to a little boy trying to save his mother’s life…
“We believe firmly that [Robert’s mom] would have survived had help come within those critical few minutes,” the lawsuit said. “We also are going to show that this is not an isolated occurrence. This is happening much more often than people think. And if this tape didn’t exist, no one would believe Robert,” said attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
“Had somebody even followed up and sent a policeman like they did on the later call, really, to admonish Robert, rather than to help his mother, perhaps we wouldn’t be here,” Fieger said. “But no one came at all. All that happened was that Robert was threatened and, really, intimidated from doing what his mother had taught him to do, which was to make an emergency call in an emergency situation…”
After a 5-day trial, a jury found 45-year-old Nichols guilty of willful neglect of duty, which is a misdemeanor charge. During her sentencing, the judge decided that a jail sentence wasn’t appropriate since Nichols had been a law-abiding citizen her entire life. In the end, Nichols, who had already been fired from her job, was sentenced to a year of probation and 15 days of community service. “I think the sentencing was fair,” said Prosecutor Lora Weingarden. “When she’s not serving as a 911 operator she’s not a danger to anybody… I hope that it makes every 911 operator in the city and across the country think real hard before dismissing a call as a prank.”
After the sentencing, Nichols went on to complete her year of probation. In 2009, however, Nichols won an arbitrator’s ruling that allowed her to go back to work as an emergency operator. “The problem was that during a trial board process prior to that the commanding officer that first issued discipline, only issued a 1-day suspension,” new Police Chief Warren Evans said about the arbitrator’s ruling.