“You can deal with it yourself.”

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:

  1. the plaintiff was located close to the accident scene;
  2. the alleged distress resulted from the plaintiff’s contemporaneous and sensory observation of the accident; and
  3. 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?

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in Law Enforcement, New Mexico, Torts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to “You can deal with it yourself.”

  1. I recall an incident two or three years ago where a teenage girl called 911. IIRC, her father was having a heart attack. When her call was answered by a more or less tone-deaf operator, she dropped a couple of f-bombs in frustration. She got a lecture and hangup. Same when she called back. As I recall, her father died, but the episode was all on tape.

    One of my own frustrations has been trying to deal with 911 dispatchers. I live on a hill overlooking one of the most dangerous intersections in the county. At the sound of a crash, I usually have 911 dialed before I even get to the window. Almost invariably, the operator wants to know about injuries. “How would I know, they are at the bottom of the hill and it’s a long way down there.”

    “Sir, are there injuries?”

    “I don’t know. It’s bad and one of the cars is on fire. We need a fire truck at least.”

    “How many people are in the car.”

    “I have no idea. It’s way down at the bottom of the hill and I’m looking at the tops of the vehicles. One of them is smoking and looks to be on fire.”

    “How many are injured?”

    “I don’t know, but it is a bad wreck. Get a fire truck here at least.”

    “Are there injuries?’

    “I don’t know. Get somebody out here fast.”

    “I need to know how many are injured.”

    …….and so forth. Eventually a deputy sheriff in a patrol car arrives, but no ambulance or fire truck until the deputy calls it in.

    Incidentally, that exact conversation took place the last time we had a fatality at our intersection.

  2. wordcloud9 says:

    Looks like the statutes in New Mexico need an overhaul. And there should be some additional training for Albuquerque’s first responders on how to handle callers who don’t react with proper decorum under extreme stress.

  3. randyjet says:

    I hope that Chuck had a long talk with the 911 operators about this lack of response. That is bizarre that they would not send a fire truck at least. Seconds count in a fire.

  4. Randy,
    I now have a long talk with ALL new hires for dispatch and 911.

    If a frantic and frustrated citizen rants and cusses, the dispatcher must not take it personally. And they are hired to dispatch, not play the role of Miss Manners. If I detect a new hire is thin skinned or too rigid, I bust them. No job for people who let their own emotions distract them from the job at hand.

  5. Harvey says:

    Chuck,

    I’d be inclined to ‘improvise’ and say there are two people injured and they are still breathing in order to get 911 to act. Would I be subject to penalties if that was incorrect?

  6. Harvey,
    I have a hard time making stuff up unless I am sure. I don’t know about any penalty, but that is a secondary risk. I want action based on what I know, and up here on this hilltop, I can’t possibly know any details about a wreck that far below me. It is the equivalent of looking out a five or six story building window at a wreck in the parking lot. Part of the problem is that dispatchers get it pounded into them by supervisors to not deviate from the scripted protocol. The more literal minded have a problem if the conversation gets off into the weeds.

  7. Randy,
    It’s not limited to just police and 911 dispatchers. I hope the culture has changed since I was there last, but some of the ATC crew at LIT used to be total asses. Short fuse, rude, and rigid. Not a good combination when work load is already high.

  8. bettykath says:

    A better outcome for that dispatcher would have been to be fired. He was obviously under-trained and overly sensitive. Or maybe he felt he wasn’t given proper deference.

  9. bettykath says:

    Chuck, Roads and intersections can be changed, especially if there are multiple incidents. Sometimes all it takes is one person “petitioning” the appropriate body (fed, state, county, city, town) to get a change. Petitioning is in quotes because it’s a process, not a piece of paper, although a paper petition might be included. Not far from me, a group of elementary students “petitioned” the town board for a 4-way stop at an intersection near the school. The town board was convinced by the students that the intersection was dangerous and would be safer with the 4-stop. The board made it happen. There are two major highway changes that have happened or are in the process – a traffic circle that was supposed to fix a dangerous intersection that didn’t help enough has been replaced by a new system and a dangerous curve with several exits (known without much affection as kamakazi curve) is getting a big revamp (federal). But many dangerous spots can be fixed by regrading, widening or straightening the road. Town boards tend to deal with what others put on their plate. The highway department, the EMTs, the fire department, and the police just need someone to point out the obvious and to take it to the appropriate body.

  10. BK,
    I have brought up the need for a light, but part of the problem is a combination of expense and location. Traffic lights are expensive to put up and maintain. Also, they all have to be approved by the State Department of Transportation. Historically, the DOT won’t approve lights until there is an emergency. The city limits run down the middle of the main road. The other side is under County jurisdiction, so there is an issue of two different political jurisdictions. There are stop signs at the cross street, but a combination of curved road with poor line of sight and people running the stop signs are the cause of most accidents. Because we are in the county, people tend to speed up as they leave the city, adding to the problem.

  11. Harvey says:

    Chuck

    You do realize you are being as rigid and ham-strung by your own scripted protocol as the idiot 911 operator. Get over the fact that you ‘have to be right’ and say what needs to be said in order to get an ambulance on its way.

  12. bettykath says:

    Chuck, If there have been several accidents there, it’s an emergency. You can’t be the only one concerned about the situation. This might be a situation for a 4-way stop that is well signaled in advance of the intersection in all directions. Police monitoring for some time for folks to get used to it. I now go through 2 such intersections on a regular basis. Both are just outside the city limits, heavily traveled, and used to be quite dangerous. Signs warning of the stop are especially warranted given poor line of sight.

    I’d probably start by asking the highway departments for their suggestions on how to fix the problem. If there is some enthusiasm, I then ask them what I needed to do to make it happen. If there is a lack of enthusiasm there, I’d attend city and county council meetings. If they grab the ball, I’d monitor their results. If they drag their feet, I’d look for allies and raise general public awareness by letters to the editor, letters to town, city and county legislative bodies, meetings with the executives (mayor, etc.), and continue to attend city and county legislative meetings. If there is a town, attend the town meetings (NYS counties are divided into cities and towns.) This is a great opportunity for the city and county to work together!!! Sell it that way. Natural allies include the families of those involved in previous accidents (check the newspapers at your library) in addition to the emts, police, and fire department. You know about squeaky wheels. Becoming one is generally less stressful than calling 911.

  13. bettykath says:

    It’s possible to get local legislative bodies to act. I worked with 4-5 other women to get an asphalt plant cleaned up. We attended multiple meetings of the town board, town planning board, county planning board, and county legislature, with additional visits to the local water quality folks, and the state Department of Conservation (actually, the folks that allow pollution) and letters to the editor. The asphalt company had two sites, both ugly and both spewing toxic fumes. After several months, with action on the part of most of the official organizations, we got the company to clean up both sites. All trucks now must have total capture (the displaced air when being refilled is now captured rather than being released), the storage tanks have a green siding (aesthetically more pleasing and what the planning board insisted on, not us, but we liked it) and new filter systems were added to the mixing and storage tanks. Did they move on this at their own volition? NO.In fact, the boards were downright hostile for some time. It took 5-6 of us keeping the pressure on until they “got it”. Then the boards, especially the town planning board with an assist from the DEC legal department, did what needed to be done. A 4-way stop? Easy, peasy. If elementary kids can do it, so can you. 🙂

  14. Matthew Sanchez was reassigned after the incident in New Mexico on 23 June, but quit on Tuesday after a recording of the call was released. He was dealing with a friend of Jaydon Chavez-Silver, 17, who had been shot in a drive-by shooting in Albuquerque.

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