Dispatcher may be fired for allegedly hanging up on supermarket worker during massacre
A 911 dispatcher who allegedly hung up on a Tops employee trapped inside the Buffalo supermarket during Saturday'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 911 and whispered to the dispatcher in hope of making the official aware of the mass shooting unfolding at the grocery store. But 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 911 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. Gendron has pleaded not guilty to the murder charges.
Authorities say the alleged white supremacist targeted the Tops supermarket in the largely Black neighborhood because of the hate he harbored for minorities, fueled by an obsession with conspiracy theories that proliferate on the Internet. Gendron, who police say traveled three hours from his home in Conklin, N.Y., 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 2:30 p.m. 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.
While some states allow for 911 calls and transcripts to be released for public inspection, New York state law suggests it is unlikely that the recording of the 911 call will be released. New York County Law 308(4), a measure that all applies to all counties outside of New York City, says that "records, in whatever form they may be kept, of calls made to a municipality's E911 system shall not be made available to or obtained by any entity or person, other than that municipality's public safety agency, another government agency or body, or a private entity or a person providing medical, ambulance or other emergency services, and shall not be utilized for any commercial purpose other than the provision of emergency services."
Rogers emphasized 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."
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The Washington Post's Shayna Jacobs and David Nakamura contributed to this report.