Your friend has been shot in a drive by shooting. You are not a trained medical first responder. What would you do? Most people would do exactly what 17-year-old Esperanza Quintero did last month when her friend Jaydon Chavez-Silver, also 17, was shot. She called 911 to get emergency services. Instead of help, she got something else altogether from Albuquerque firefighter and 911 operator Matthew Sanchez, 34. Attitude and a lack of proper professional response. The episode ended in Chavez-Silver’s death.
As Huffington Post reports:
In audio first obtained by local news station KRQE, a girl frantically pleads with Chavez-Silver to stay awake, but gets annoyed at the dispatcher when he asks twice if the victim is breathing.
“He’s barely breathing,” she says. “How many times do I have to fucking tell you?”
“OK, you know what, ma’am?” Sanchez says. “You can deal with it yourself. I’m not gonna deal with this, OK?”
The girl can be heard saying “No, my friend is dying!” just moments before Sanchez hangs up the phone.
Being flustered in the aftermath of violence is a perfectly natural response and one that emergency services personnel are both trained to and expected to handle in a calm and professional manner. While an ambulance was dispatched before Sanchez hung up on Ms. Quintero, the matter remains that Sanchez acted with a callous and depraved indifference that is unacceptable from any civilized rational non-criminal human being much less a professional first responder. Sanchez has since resigned.
This act of depraved indifference wasn’t causally connected to Chavez-Silver’s death. He was in effect simply a callous and rude jackass to rightfully freaked out teenager. The chance of a criminal charge is practically non- existent. But what about a tort? Specifically the often hard to prove Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress? The tort has four elements according to Sinn v. Burd, 404 A.2d 672:
- the plaintiff was located close to the accident scene;
- the alleged distress resulted from the plaintiff’s contemporaneous and sensory observation of the accident; and
- the plaintiff and the victim were closely related.
New Mexico allows for such claims from bystanders but there are additional limitations. For a bystander to recover they 1) There must be a marital or intimate family relationship between the victim and the plaintiff, limited to relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, brother and sister, and to those persons who occupy a legitimate position in loco parentis; 2) The shock to the plaintiff must be severe and result from a direct emotional impact upon the plaintiff caused by the contemporaneous sensory perception of the accident as contrasted with learning of the accident by means other than contemporaneous sensory perception, or by learning of the accident after its occurrence; 3) There must be some physical manifestation of, or physical injury to, the plaintiff, resulting from the emotional injury; 4) The accident must result in physical injury or death to the victim. Ramirez v Armstong, 100 N.M. at 541-42,673 P.2d at 825-26.
Although it seems the legal threshold for such a claim isn’t met in the present case, it does not change that what Sanchez did was unethical and inhumane in addition to being unprofessional and cruel.
Should this kind of fact pattern have an appropriate legal remedy? Is his “resignation” (which most likely came via the suggestion of a superior) sufficient justice?
What do you think?