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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Dispatcher fired over mishandling 911 call during Buffalo shooting

The executive in Erie County, N.Y., said the way an emergency dispatcher handled a 911 call last month about the Tops supermarket shooting in Buffalo was “completely unacceptable.

By Amanda Holpuch

An emergency services dispatcher in Buffalo, New York, who was accused of hanging up on a 911 call from a supermarket employee during the racist shooting rampage last month was fired Thursday, an official said.

The dispatcher, who has not been publicly identified, was fired in a disciplinary hearing, the official, Peter Anderson, a spokesperson for the Erie County executive, said in an email.

Anderson said the dispatcher, who had worked for Erie County for eight years, had been on paid administrative leave since May 16 “as the mishandled call was investigated.”

The investigation was prompted by comments made by an employee at the Tops supermarket, where a white gunman killed 10 Black people on May 14 in one of the worst racist mass shootings in the recent history of the United States.

Latisha Rogers, an assistant office manager at the supermarket, told The Buffalo News that she had called 911 while hiding inside the store and was whispering on the phone to avoid the gunman’s attention.

She said the dispatcher admonished her for speaking quietly on the call.

“She was yelling at me, saying, ‘Why are you whispering? You don’t have to whisper,’” Rogers told the News, “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.”

In a separate interview with The New York Times, Rogers said she ducked down behind the store’s customer service counter when she first heard gunfire and called 911 on her cellphone.

She said the dispatcher asked her why she was whispering and then the connection broke.

At a news conference last month, the county executive, Mark Poloncarz, said the handling of the call was “completely unacceptable.” A transcript of the call has not been released.

The dispatcher was represented by the Civil Service Employees Association, a union for public employees in New York.

“CSEA has negotiated contractual due process disciplinary provisions that must be adhered to by the parties and we have ensured that process was followed fairly and appropriately here,” Mat Cantore, acting communications director for the union, said in a statement.

The man accused of carrying out the Buffalo shooting was indicted this past week by a grand jury on 25 counts, including murder and domestic terrorism. The suspect, Payton Gendron, 18, pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment under the domestic terrorism charge.

The shooting in Buffalo, New York’s second-largest city, took place 10 days before 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

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