Your life is on the line and every second counts in an emergency when you dial 911, but a News 4 Trouble Shooters investigation reveals some dispatchers are not there when you need them most.
Trouble Shooter Brian Collister is breaking the story. He uncovered 911 calls that will make you angry when you hear how dispatchers did little to help in an emergency.
It’s what every parent fears. Someone breaking into your house while your children are home alone. It all became reality for a San Antonio family last year.
Here are the transcripts of a call that came into 911 from a child in that situation. She was calling from inside the house.
Child: “I saw some people outside. They were knocking and I didn’t open it.”
911: “They just broke down your door?”
Child: “Yes, I heard it…”
911: “Are they inside?”
Child: “Yes. Hurry.”
911: “Oh, okay. How many people you hear?”
Child: “My little sister and me.”
911: “Okay. We’ll get someone over there for you.”
One minute later the childrens’ father calls 911.
Dad: “Hello? Hello?”
911: “San Antonio Police Department. Murray, can I help you?”
Dad: “Yeah. Hi. My name’s Jose. I’m calling…I’m working. My daughter just told me somebody broke in the house and they’re still there.”
The frantic father is racing home and wants a police officer dispatched immediately.
911: “How old is your daughter?”
Dad: “She’s 15! I got a 10 year old in there, too.”
“…They broke down the door she says. She says they were knocking on the door and she went to see who it was. She didn’t recognize anybody, and they knocked down the door.”
Both call takers sent alerts to dispatcher Sarah Rodriguez, but Rodriguez did not send out the call as a “burglary in progress.” Instead, she sent officers on other less urgent calls first. That delayed officers for over 30 minutes according to a department investigation that found “she used poor judgment that could have resulted in personal injury to others.”
“I was very upset because the way the handled it,” said the mother of the girls, who is still angry over the lack of response.
Their mother said, “Apparently, to them it wasn’t important. It wasn’t their kids. If you kids are alone, someone is breaking in and they’re inside and the police cannot respond to that as an emergency. What is considered an emergency?”
She thinks the dispatcher should have been fired, but Rodriguez is still handling 911 calls. Her punishment was a written reprimand.
SAPD call taker Grace Fragozo was also punished last year for her mishandling of a call.
Read as Fragozo hung up on a woman asking for help after a burglary at her apartment.
911: “San Antonio 911. Do you need police, fire, or EMS? This is Grace.”
Caller: “Um, yeah. Um, somebody tried to break into my apartment.”
So, why did she hang up? She took another call, a personal call, from a moving van company. Fragozo apparently did not want to miss it because she was moving the next day.
Dispatcher: “San Antonio Police.”
Caller: “Hi. Yes. This is Eric from U-haul. Can I talk to Grace Fragozo?”
Dispatcher: “Oh, yes! Yes! This is Grace Fragozo, sir.”
Caller: “Yes, ma’am. How are you doing?”
Dispatcher: “I’m doing good, sir.”
Caller: “Pretty good. I was calling about the reservation you had for tomorrow. Are you still going to need it?”
Dispatcher: “Yes, I know.”
Her punishment was to give up one vacation day.
We asked SAPD why both Rodriguez and Fragozo are still on the job.
Brian Collister asked, “Why the slap on the wrist for these dispatchers when lives are on the line?”
Asst. Chief Rudy Gonzalez answered, “Well, first and foremost, both of these employees had no prior history of any disciplinary problems. They’d been doing their jobs correctly and I think that particular time it was a lapse in judgment.”
When every second counts you expect 911 dispatchers to be there to help you, and the majority of times they are. During our investigation we found several dispatchers at 911 call centers around the county who have been disciplined for not doing their job.
That includes a Schertz dispatcher who didn’t send officers to a house after a caller said she might hurt someone. That caller later cut her husbands throat. The dispatcher got a written reprimand.
A Bexar County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher was disciplined twice, once for falling asleep on duty and another time for not helping a caller who reported a suspicious vehicle. He got two written reprimands and then resigned.
An SAPD dispatcher got in trouble for sending too many officers on break at the same time, leaving too few available to cover incoming calls. She had to give up one day of vacation.
Then, there is the case of San Antonio Fire Department dispatcher Roy Montejano who was disciplined twice in 2004. The first time was for being rude to one caller who was trying to report a fire and had to give up two vacation days. The second time was for not calling back another caller who was helping a man having a heart attack. That man died. Montejano lost ten days of vacation for that incident.
After this incident, his boss wrote: “I don’t want to take the chance this may happen again…I strongly recommend that this call taker/dispatcher be transferred to another division as soon as possible.”
Despite the concerns, former fire chief Robert Ojeda let Montejano keep his job. We asked the new fire chief how he feels about the way the department handled it.
Collister asked, “When lives are on the line, and you have a dispatcher who’s been disciplined twice, why still let them be a dispatcher?”
Chief Charles Hood told us, “Well, if you look back three years ago it was a proposed 15 day suspension without pay.”
Collister followed with, “But why not just say, ‘We’re not going to let you be a dispatcher anymore. We don’t feel comfortable?'”
Chief Hood answered, “Well, I don’t think that is fair to the individual if they’ve been operating safely since 1992 and he had one bad day. Even though a life has been lost, we need to look at what happened, and if we can correct that and prevent that, that is what we need to do.”
As for the little girls who called 911 but were not given a quick response, we are told they were not hurt. Their mother says the men must have heard someone inside the home and took off.