Justice

Dispatchers Ignored 19-Year-Old’s Emergency Calls Before Police Killed Him

CREDIT: SCREENSHOT/NBC 5, CHICAGO

Before he was killed in Chicago for allegedly swinging a bat at a police officer, 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier tried calling 911 three times. But audio recordings released this week by the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) reveal that two dispatchers ignored LeGrier’s pleas for police assistance.

In the first call made on December 26, LeGrier asks the dispatcher to send an officer, but doesn’t specify why one is needed. The teenager repeatedly says the word “emergency,” but the dispatcher says she won’t send an officer until LeGrier says his full name. She hangs up in less than two minutes.

LeGrier tries calling again, sounding more distressed. He asks “can you please send the police?” four times, but a second dispatcher says she’ll only send an officer when LeGrier answers her questions. The call ends after 41 seconds, and the dispatcher declines to send help.

A third dispatcher sent help when LeGrier called a third time — shortly before his father placed his own 911 call. Antonio LeGrier requested police help, explaining that his son was attempting to bust down his door with a baseball bat.

When Officer Robert Rialmo arrived at the scene, he shot LeGrier seven times. He also shot a neighbor in the chest, killing her accidentally.

The shooting occurred amidst growing public outrage in Chicago, as protesters slammed the Chicago Police Department’s record of police brutality and recklessness — and the leaders who have covered it up. LeGrier’s family members pointed out that the 19-year-old had a history of mental illness, which highlights how police are ill-equipped to handle people who have emotional breakdowns.

But LeGrier’s shooting also raises questions about the role dispatchers play in emergency calls. Similar to the Chicago case, dispatchers in other parts of the country have been negligent in their responses to people in dire need of help. A Denver audit found that hundreds of dispatchers “failed to verify or properly broadcast addresses,” didn’t call medics when they were urgently needed, left people waiting on the phone, and failed to report all of the information relayed to them when dispatching officers. Elsewhere, dispatchers have fallen asleep on the job, waited an hour to report a call, and hung up on Spanish-speaking callers.

A Cleveland dispatcher failed to mention a crucial detail that could have saved 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s life. The caller who reported Rice said the gun in his hands was probably fake — a detail the dispatcher left out altogether.