Friday, September 29, 2023
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N.J. Appeals Court Denies Immunity |To 911 Operators & Police Dispatchers

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - 911 operators and police dispatchers are not immune from liability for bungling the facts of an emergency call, causing police to miss any opportunity to save a college student from being murdered by her ex-boyfriend, a New Jersey appeals court ruled.

The victim, Sohayla Massachi, was abducted outside the gates of Seton Hall University. A witness who saw the ex-boyfriend bundle Massachi into his car ran to a security guard's booth at the university and reported the abduction. The witness said an Argenbright Security guard told her "it was not on campus and there was nothing they could do for her," so she called 911 and gave an operator the direction the car was headed and its license plate number.

The operator entered an incorrect description of the car - calling it a Chevy Blazer instead of a Plymouth Laser - and failed to record the last known location of the car or its direction. Within an hour, the ex-boyfriend had taken Massachi to his apartment, shot her in the head, and shot and killed himself. Massachi died two days later from the gunshot wound. Her relatives filed suit against AHL Services, USA Security Services, Argenbright Security, the Newark Police Department, and the 911 operator and police dispatcher who handled the calls.

The appeals court found that the failure of the operator to abide by written guidelines constitutes the negligent performance of a ministerial task and does not insulate the police officers from the "unfortunate results" of the errors.

Reversed and remanded. See ruling in Massachi v. AHL Services Inc.

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