Attorney blames 911 operator for woman’s death


DETROIT – Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said Sunday on the “Today” show that he believes a 46-year-old Detroit woman would have lived had a 911 emergency dispatcher taken seriously a call for help from her then-5-year-old son.

He said he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family Monday.

On the show, Fieger held hands with Robert Turner, now 6, as Robert recounted the Feb. 20 incident in which he called 911 twice as his mother, Sherrill Turner, lay dying from complications of an enlarged heart in their Detroit apartment.

There’s a critical time period to save a person suffering from problems due to an enlarged heart, Fieger said. And “had they responded immediately to the first call at 6 p.m., she certainly would have survived,” Fieger said.

Detroit Police did not comment on Sunday. But, in a statement Friday, Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings urged the public not to rush to judgment, saying city residents “can be assured that our department is meticulously examining every aspect of what occurred.”

The incident and subsequent frustration of the boy’s voice heard in the replayed 911 tapes have stirred national outrage. Detroit police officials say they have received numerous complaints from people across the metro area and the country. Fieger said he plans to hold a news conference Monday at 11 a.m. at his Southfield law office to announce the filing of a suit.

According to the recording, when Robert – who was alone with his mother – first called 911 about 6 p.m., an operator asked him to bring an adult to the phone. Robert told the operator he couldn’t.

At one point, “She hanged up on me,” Robert said Friday. The recording indicates the dispatcher hung up after saying she would send police to the home. They did not arrive.

Robert called back about 9 p.m. And another operator told him: “You shouldn’t be playing on the phone. … Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you going to be in trouble.”

Robert said he was scared and hung up the phone. The child could be heard saying “Ugh,” after that last comment from the 911 operator.

Kimberly Harris, a 911 operator and president of the AFSCME Local 1023 union, said Sunday that different dispatchers handled the two emergency calls.

A police squad car, not EMS, eventually responded to the call, but it was too late for Sherrill Turner. It was not clear at what point she died or whether she was alive when Robert made the first call.

“Today” played both calls Sunday.

“In general, this indicates an endemic problem,” Fieger said. “There’s a discounting of children. Robert did exactly what he was taught to do. And if we’re concerned in the United States about the welfare of children, as I know we all are, we better be concerned when they call to ask for help as much as anybody else.”

Robert, in a shirt and tie and seated between Fieger and his older sister, Delaina Patterson, explained that his mother taught him to call 911 in case of an emergency.

Of the operator who took at least one of the calls, he said: “She thought I was playing on the phone.”