Police dispatcher accused of hanging up on supermarket worker during Buffalo mass shooting

Washington: An emergency services dispatcher who allegedly hung up on a Tops employee trapped inside the Buffalo supermarket during last weekend’s mass shooting that killed 10 people has been placed on administrative leave and is facing possible termination, according to county officials.

Latisha Rogers, an assistant office manager at the Tops supermarket, told the Buffalo News and WGRZ that she called emergency services and whispered to the dispatcher in hope of making the official aware of the mass shooting unfolding at the grocery store.

Police walk outside the Tops grocery store on Sunday after the shooting in Buffalo, New York.Credit:AP

Instead of assistance in a moment when she was “scared for my life,” Rogers said the 911 dispatcher dismissed her with “a very nasty tone”.

“The dispatcher comes on and I’m whispering to her and I said, ‘Miss, please send help to 1275 Jefferson there is a shooter in the store,’” Rogers told WGRZ.

“She proceeded in a very nasty tone and says, ‘I can’t hear you, why are you whispering? You don’t have to whisper, they can’t hear you,’ so I continued to whisper and I said, ‘Ma’am he’s still in the store, he’s still shooting! I’m scared for my life, please send help!’ Out of nervousness, my phone fell out of my hand, she said something I couldn’t make out, and then the phone hung up.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a Wednesday news conference that the dispatcher has been placed on leave and could be fired by the end of the month.

The dispatcher, who has not been publicly identified, has been on the job for eight years, according to the county.

“The individual was put on administrative leave pending a hearing which will be held on May 30 in which our intention is to terminate the 911 call taker who acted totally inappropriately not following protocol,” he said.

A spokesperson with CSEA Local 815, the union that represents the dispatcher, said they could not comment on disciplinary actions or ongoing investigations.

The announcement comes as Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old charged in connection with the killing, has been indicted by a grand jury and will remain in custody after a brief court appearance on Thursday.

Bullet holes are seen in a window as an investigator works at the scene of a fatal shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo.Credit:AP

Gendron has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.

Authorities say the alleged white supremacist targeted the Tops supermarket in the largely black neighbourhood because of the hate he harboured for minorities, fuelled by an obsession with conspiracy theories that proliferate on the internet.

Gendron, who police say travelled three hours from his home in Conklin, NY, to target black people with his Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, is believed to have posted a screed online that revealed a paranoid obsession with a racist conspiracy theory claiming white Americans are intentionally being replaced by non-white immigrants.

Investigators from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Justice Department’s civil rights division are combing through evidence in Buffalo and online to piece together the scope of the mass shooting and the motivation for it.

Federal prosecutors are also conducting a parallel investigation to determine whether to charge Gendron with a hate crime, a prospect that could add significant punishment, including the death penalty, according to legal experts.

Rogers had been standing behind the store’s customer service counter when the shooting began.

As she ducked down to avoid the gunfire, she hurriedly called 911 at around 2.30pm on Saturday. That’s when the Tops employee said the 911 dispatcher flippantly responded to her.

“She got mad at me, hung up in my face,” Rogers told the News. After the dispatcher hung up on her, Rogers told local media that she called her boyfriend and directed him to call 911.

When Rogers made her remarks over the weekend to local media, county officials began to investigate the allegations against the dispatcher. Poloncarz told reporters that Erie County emergency services combed through all of the 911 calls associated with the mass shooting.

Officials were able to locate the call in question and found the alleged actions of the dispatcher to be “completely unacceptable,” Poloncarz said.

The dispatcher’s alleged actions “had no bearing on the dispatching of the call,” Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz, told WNYW in New York City.

“The first call was dispatched for an immediate police response in approximately 30 seconds,” Anderson said.

Rogers emphasised that she was glad some action was taken against the dispatcher for not helping her and others in their time of need. She told WGRZ that she was initially on the fence about the dispatcher losing her job, but has concluded that being placed on administrative leave is not enough.

“You see in movies and shows, even in real-life calls . . . that the dispatcher is never rude or nasty. They’re calm, they’re trying to keep you calm, they’re trying to get information out of you, and be understanding,” Rogers said. “She was not understanding at all, and she didn’t care and left me for dead.”

The Tops employee added, “I just thank God that I’m here ’cause I could have died.”

The Washington Post

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