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911 call taker responds to accusation she hung up during mass shooting
The Erie County 911 call taker accused of mishandling and cutting off a desperate call by a Tops employee during the mass shooting on May 14 wants people to reserve judgment prior to her disciplinary hearing, saying there are two sides to the story.
Sheila E. Ayers, an eight-year employee with Erie County's Central Police Services Department, was working in the Enhanced 911 call center on Saturday when the shooting occurred.
Latisha Rogers, an assistant office manager at the Jefferson Avenue Tops location, had dialed 911 while hiding behind a customer service counter when the assailant was gunning down people in the store, ultimately killing 10 of them.
Rogers said the call taker, reprimanded Rogers for whispering and told Rogers to speak up.
"She was yelling at me, saying, 'Why are you whispering? You don't have to whisper,' " Rogers said, "and I was telling her, 'Ma'am, he's still in the store. He's shooting. I'm scared for my life. I don't want him to hear me. Can you please send help?' She got mad at me, hung up in my face."
In recounting the story to other news outlets, Rogers has also mentioned dropping her phone and said when she picked it back up, the 911 call taker had hung up.
Ayers said she is sorry about what Rogers experienced during the shooting but that Rogers' has changed her story about what happened on the call "multiple times." Ayers said she does not want to be judged before more facts come out at her hearing.
"I’m being attacked for one side of the story," she said.
She also said she was not free to disclose any other information until after her hearing is held. The county administration has said the 911 call taker's hearing is scheduled for the week of May 30.
Mathew Cantore, a spokesman for the state's Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing Ayers, offered no further comment except to say the CSEA is following the disciplinary process and has nothing else to share publicly.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Wednesday that he had not yet heard the 911 call but that everyone who has heard it is in agreement that Ayers disregarded her training and that the way she responded to the caller was "completely wrong."
After Rogers' allegations surfaced, Central Police Services administrators spent Sunday reviewing all 911 calls made Saturday during the shooting and identified the call in question, Poloncarz said. While it's not clear who hung up on whom, he said, the call taker's response to Rogers was still "completely unacceptable."
Ayers was placed on paid administrative leave May 16 and has not reported to work since then. CSEA Local 815 provides that members placed on leave receive pay until the outcome of their disciplinary matter is determined.
The county's call center receives area 911 calls made from mobile phones. Poloncarz said that call takers are trained to recognize that if the person on the other end of the phone is whispering, that means the caller is likely in danger. That danger does not just include active shooters but incidents of domestic violence.
"It is our intention to terminate that individual for what was a completely inappropriate response in a terrible situation," Poloncarz said. He said he will personally listen to the 911 call, "but it was described to me by everyone who heard it internally that it was the completely wrong response."
Poloncarz also said Wednesday that he would release the transcript and recording of the 911 call.
On Thursday, however, First Assistant Erie County Attorney Jeremy Toth said the call recording and transcript would not be released, despite the fact that a number of other police departments have provided 911 call information to the news media. He pointed to Section 308.4 of New York county law that states E911 calls "shall not be made available" to the public.
Many other states, including Florida, Illinois and Maryland, allow for public inspection of 911 call recordings or transcripts.