911 Deputy Cuts Off Caller in Shooting
A frantic 911 caller, reporting a shooting in Newhall and fearing that he was about to be killed, was told to “have a nice day” by a veteran Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who hung up on him, authorities said Friday.
“I’m going to get killed!” the caller said before being cut off. ". . . There’s blood everywhere! . . . Get a deputy. . . . Come on. Come on!”
The caller was not injured, but the manner in which the call was handled by Deputy Jim Greene is being investigated by the department, according to Sheriff Sherman Block, who said the deputy made an obvious error in judgment.
“He didn’t accept the call as being a valid call,” Block said at a news conference Friday. “He didn’t do anything.”
However, Block would not speculate on whether Greene, a 25-year veteran who twice last year received commendations for his handling of 911 calls, will be disciplined following the investigation.
The man who made the call, Jim Finnila, was reporting the shooting of Miguel Jiminez, 15, of San Fernando, who was shot by a rival gang member Jan. 20 in the 24300 block of San Fernando Road in Newhall, deputies said.
Jiminez died at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia after the shooting. Early the next morning, deputies arrested Alphonso Tapia, 18, a rival gang member from San Fernando, on suspicion of murder.
Block said Finnila’s call, at 10:36 p.m., was the second report of the shooting received on 911 lines at the sheriff’s Santa Clarita Valley station. Another caller, at almost the same time, reported that shots had been fired and that several armed gang members were running around in the commercial area. Block said a sheriff’s patrol car was dispatched at that point.
Thirty seconds later, Finnila called 911 from a pay phone near the shooting scene. Although he started out reporting the shooting calmly, his voice soon grew frantic as he apparently believed that the gang members responsible for the shooting were going to turn on him.
“There’s someone laying here on San Fernando, there’s a gunshot on 8th and San Fernando, ah . . . ,” Finnila said.
‘A Gunshot Victim?’
“Did you say a gunshot victim?” Greene asked.
“Yeah,” Finnila said. “He’s, ah, this guy is jerking around on the ground.”
Block said Greene did not know about the earlier call on the shooting, which was handled by another 911 operator. The 911 system provides the operator with the address that a call comes from, and Greene apparently believed that Finnila was calling from a bar located among several businesses on the road where the shooting occurred.
“Based on the conversation he had with the individual, he made a judgment call--the wrong judgment, bad judgment, I might add--and decided that he would not dispatch a car,” Block said. “He did not grasp the urgency of the situation.”
Halfway through the 55-second call, Greene again asked Finnila if there was a shooting victim and this time the caller said he didn’t know.
“Come on and get some squad cars over here,” Finnila said.
In a seemingly matter-of-fact manner, Greene replied: “No, I ain’t getting nobody nowhere unless you talk to me. You want to talk to me?”
“I’m going to get killed!” Finnila said. “Oh, yeah. Yeah. There’s blood everywhere! There’s blood from his head! Oh damn. Get a deputy. Oh goddamn.”
“Hey, have a nice day. OK,” Greene interjected.
Finnila, his voice rising in panic, yelled: “Oh. Come on. Come on!” as Greene disconnected the call.
“It would appear to me that this was not a willful, malicious disregarding of a call for assistance,” Block said.
“I think he obviously made the decision that this caller was not expressing a situation that was in fact occurring. I’m not excusing that, but it was a judgment call. I think he responded in a way that he thought appropriate for the kind of call he thought he was dealing with.”
Off-Duty Officer Arrived
Block said the dispatched patrol car arrived less than five minutes after the first call to 911. But before it arrived, an off-duty Los Angeles police officer drove up, got out of his car and drew his gun. Block said the gang members involved in the shooting then ran while friends with Jiminez put him in a car and took him to the hospital. Block wouldn’t speculate on whether the off-duty officer’s arrival saved Finnila from being attacked by the gang members.
Block stressed that even if Greene had handled the call from Finnila properly, deputies would not have arrived at the scene any faster because a patrol car had already been dispatched.
“It is truly unfortunate that this judgment call was made,” Block said. “Fortunately for all concerned, his action did not exacerbate in any way the situation because the original call resulted in the dispatch of a unit, which did arrive in a timely fashion.”
An ambulance was not dispatched after the first call, which was only a report of shots fired. However, Block said, that delay did not appear to be a factor because Jiminez’s friends took him to the hospital shortly after the shooting.
Neither Finnila nor Greene could be reached for comment. Deputies said Finnila was not involved in the shooting and was not a gang member but would release no other information about him.
‘Somewhat Ill Over This’
Greene was not at work Friday and “feels not only very, very bad but has become somewhat ill over this,” Block said. “This becomes a little difficult for a person to accept that, very simply, they screwed up.”
When Greene returns to work, it is likely that he will continue handling 911 calls, the sheriff said.
“There is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to take 911 calls,” he said.
Block said he was not sure whether disciplinary action will follow investigation of the call because it involved a judgment call, rather than a clear break in regulations. Finnila has not filed a complaint.
“People in law enforcement, be they answering telephone calls or out on the street, have to make judgment calls,” Block said. “And sometimes they make the wrong judgment call.”
Greene: 911 emergency.
Finnila: There’s someone laying here on San Fernando, there’s a gunshot on 8th and San Fernando, ah (pause).
Greene: Did you say a gunshot victim?
Finnila: Yeah. He’s, ah, this guy is jerking around on the ground.
(The sound of screeching tires is heard in the background.)
Finnila: Get the cops here quick.
Greene: Hello. Hello.
Finnila: Get the cops here quick!
Finnila: Quick, quick.
Greene: Anybody there? Hello.
Finnila: Hurry up. I’m going to get my ass kicked! Hurry up!
Greene: Are you gonna talk to me?
Finnila: Yeah. And I’m scared to death.
Greene: All right. Has anybody been shot? Yes or no?
Finnila: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Greene: What have you got there? What the hell are you yelling about?
Finnila: Come on and get some squad cars over here.
Greene: No, I ain’t getting nobody nowhere unless you talk to me. You want to talk to me?
Finnila: I’m going to get killed! Oh, yeah. Yeah. There’s blood everywhere! There’s blood from his head! Oh damn. Get a deputy. Oh goddamn.
Greene: Hey. Have a nice day. OK.
Finnila: Oh. Come on. Come on!
(Phone connection terminated.)