Fatal Advice Won’t Leave 911 Operator Liable

     DENVER (CN) — A 911 dispatcher is not liable for a man’s shooting death because the victim and his companions could have ignored the operator’s instructions to return to a dangerous area, the 10th Circuit ruled.
     Sudanese immigrant Jimma Pal Reat was shot and killed after 911 operator Juan Rodriguez, who has since been fired, told Reat’s brother to leave Wheat Ridge, Colo., and cross back into Denver, where they had been harassed by an unidentified group of men in a red Jeep, according to court records.
     Reat’s brother, Ran Pal, reportedly called 911 after the assailants had thrown bottles and bottle rockets hard enough at his car to break the windshield.
     “For reasons that remain unclear, Rodriguez told Pal that because the attack had occurred in Denver, he needed to return to the city in order to receive help from the police,” according to the 10th Circuit ruling penned by Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich.
     “At first, Pal refused to return. He told Rodriguez he was in a state of shock, needed time to recover, and did not want to drive. Pal pleaded with Rodriguez to send help to his current location. Over the course of the 14-minute call, Pal told the operator at least six times that he was injured, in shock, and afraid. Still, Rodriguez insisted the police could not help unless he returned to Denver,” the May 31 ruling states.
     Reat was killed after Pal drove back into Denver at the 911 operator’s request.
     “Pal handed the phone to someone else, who told Rodriguez that the men were shooting. Pal picked the phone back up to report that his brother had been shot. Over Pal’s screams, Rodriguez continued to ask what was happening.
     Someone else picked up the phone and repeated the information,” the ruling states. “Rodriguez asked who had been shot, where they were located, and whether the attackers were still there. The speaker told Rodriguez that Reat was about to die and asked whether he could send an ambulance. Rodriguez continued to ask questions about the victim. Officers were dispatched to the scene about one minute after the shooting. Reat died of his injuries.”
     Reat’s family accused Rodriguez of lying to Pal when he told him he had dispatched for the police to come help, even though he had not, according to court records.
     The district court ruled in Rodriguez’s favor on all claims except for a due process claim based on a theory of state-created danger. However, the 10th Circuit reversed that decision and remanded for entry of summary judgment in Rodriguez’s favor.
     The three-judge panel comprised of Tymkovich and Judges Michael Murphy and Robert Bacharach agreed that “the facts of this case are tragic,” but that the 911 operator was not responsible for creating the dangerous situation.
     “It cannot be said that any of Rodriguez’s actions, as foolish as they were, ‘limited in some way the liberty of a citizen to act on his own behalf,'” the opinion states.
     The 10th Circuit ruled that Rodriguez “did not impose any limitation on Reat’s freedom to act.”
     “Rodriguez merely informed the victims, however incompetently, that to get help from the police, they would have to return to Denver,” Tymkovich wrote. “Unlike children in school or under the care of social workers, Reat and his companions were not incapable of acting in their own interest at the time of the shooting.”
     Reat’s family attorney, Erica Grossman, said she is considering an appeal.

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