I-TEAM: Continuing the coverage ... Aiken County 911

Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 7:07 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt, Administrator Clay Killian, and others are all being sued in federal court. It’s the latest development in our I-Team investigation – Aiken County 911.

One year ago we brought you the story of Barbara Roberts. The Aiken County woman who suffered what her family calls a minor heart attack in 2019. But after documented failures from 911 dispatch to EMS Roberts later suffered a brain injury. She held on for two more years bed-ridden in a nursing home but died a few weeks ago in hospice care.

The sheriff and county administrator are being sued in their official and individual capacity. The family is also suing the dispatcher who hung up on them. And miscoded the call. An act this lawsuit says was done maliciously and intentionally. The I-Team breaks down what this new federal lawsuit could mean for taxpayers.

Barbara Ann Carroll Roberts died earlier this month. Her obituary online remembers her as a loving, adoring grandmother who was “Strong in her faith.” But this new 38 page lawsuit filed in federal court shows her families’ faith in Aiken County Emergency Services shattered in May 2019.

“Why do you need an ambulance?” the dispatcher asked.

“Cardiac arrest! Cardiac arrest! We need an ambulance immediately,” Frank said.

“Sir, you don’t need to keep repeating you need an ambulance immediately,” the dispatcher said. “I need to know what is going on. I need to know.”

“Cardiac arrest,” Frank said.

“Cardiac arrest?” the dispatcher responded.

“Cardiac arrest! Cardiac arrest! Get someone out here!” Frank said.

“Sir, why are you yelling at me,” the dispatcher said. “I am not yelling at you,” the dispatcher said. “It takes me longer to take this call because you keep repeating yourself,” the dispatcher said.

And then she hangs up the 911 call.

The I-Team has never named the dispatcher on the other line, but the Roberts family does in this lawsuit. Alleging Jeannie Turner hung up with malicious intent downgrading the call. They are suing her, too.

The suit cites evidence such as “Cameras displayed Turner bragging to other dispatchers that “I hung up on him” and proclaiming that “She did not have time for that.”

The suit claims Turner then improperly, intentionally, and with actual malice improperly coded the call as a report of “Chest pain.”

The suit also says Turner “Failed to pass the required training program for 911 dispatchers scoring only 56%” despite that by “2017, Turner was promoted and began to supervise and train other 911 dispatchers for the county.”

“I hope that this is a wake up call for Aiken and that maybe they will start improving their standard of care so the citizens of Aiken get the care that they deserve,” said the Roberts family.

The Roberts family tells the I-Team they believe failure by top leadership including Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt is to blame. Hunt’s office oversees 911 dispatch.

In an email, the sheriff’s spokesperson said Hunt declined to comment on the suit. Last year Hunt told the I-Team, “The bottom line is dispatchers are human they’re going to make a mistake once in a while.”

But the Roberts say he and County Administrator Clay Killian knew about the staffing issues and shortages for years.

Between 2016 and 2019, defendants shutdown up to five (5) of their ten (10) EMS stations at a time due to understaffing or funding issues. Their custom, significantly increased the risk of harm to the public.

They also cite in “2019 the county had among the worst retention rate for 911 dispatchers for all counties in South Carolina.”

The lawsuit alleges Barbara Roberts’ civil rights were violated by the people paid by taxpayers to protect them. Taxpayers like Barbara Roberts who worked for years serving others as a cook in the Aiken County school system. A family matriarch now gone, but the battle far from over.

The suit is seeking a jury trial and damages, much of which would also be paid for by taxpayers if a jury rules in favor of the Roberts family.

As for Killian, we also reached out to him for comment but he also declined citing pending litigation. But in May he did talk to the I-Team about the improvements the county has made since our investigation. Including salary increases, new hires, and stopping the practice of shutting down stations.

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