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L.A. County to pay $3 million to family who says failed 911 calls led to girl’s death

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Ashley Flores, 11, died on Christmas Eve 2017 after her family’s attempts to get help through 911. The family said a sheriff’s deputy repeatedly mishandled their calls, resulting in a delay that contributed to the asthmatic girl’s death.
(Flores family)

Ashley Flores was at home on Christmas Eve 2017, anticipating the gifts she and her siblings would soon open, when she began having difficulty breathing.

The 11-year-old’s older sister dialed 911 and was put on hold by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, her relatives said. The next four times her sister and other family members called, the same deputy failed to properly transfer the emergency calls and eventually routed them to an empty fire station where no one picked up, the family alleged in a lawsuit.

Fifteen minutes went by before Ashley’s relatives were connected to a fire department dispatcher — a delay that the family claims contributed to her death

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County supervisors approved a $3-million settlement for Ashley’s family, who sued the county, former Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Century Station Capt. Kerry Carter. The lawsuit alleged that the Century Station, which handled the 911 calls, provided poor training to its deputies and had failed annual inspections of its desk operations during the previous three years.

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“This was preventable,” Vicki Sarmiento, one of the family’s attorneys, said Tuesday. “[The family] doesn’t want this to happen to other families. It happened in their own home, and they were doing what they thought would save Ashley’s life, which was to call 911.”

Sarmiento said the family’s calls should have been fielded by a trained person at the Century Station who stays on the line while calls are transferred. She said the Sheriff’s Department was also supposed to send a patrol deputy to the location where the call originated, which did not happen.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, in a statement, called the circumstances leading to Ashley’s death an “unfortunate tragedy.”

“We are going to do our best to make sure these tragedies do not happen in the future and that our desk personnel are properly trained when they are in those positions. God bless the family,” the statement said.

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The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to questions about its protocol for handling 911 calls or whether the problems identified in the lawsuit have been fixed.

Ashley, who suffered from asthma, was pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner’s office. Her primary cause of death was “acute asthma exacerbation,” coroner case records show.

Sarmiento said that once the paramedics were dispatched, they came quickly to the family’s home in Lynwood. She said the hospital was also nearby, but it was the deputy’s handling of the call that resulted in a deadly delay.

Dale Galipo, the family’s other attorney, said he hopes the settlement will bring closure for the Flores household and will send a message to the county and Sheriff’s Department.

“We’re hoping they will take steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen to someone else,” he said.

Also Tuesday, Los Angeles County supervisors approved a $500,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought by Rachel and Ricardo Bruno, who said sheriff’s deputies wrongfully removed their young children from their care without a warrant.

According to a county corrective action plan, deputies responded to a call in July 2015 about a 7-week-old baby with a skull fracture and brain hemorrhaging. Fearing the infant and his 1-year-old sibling were in imminent danger in their mother’s care, deputies placed a “hospital hold” on the infant and placed the older child in protective custody, but did not obtain warrants for those actions, the county document says.

The district attorney’s office reviewed the case but did not prosecute the parents. A Sheriff’s Department assessment did not reveal any employee misconduct and found the deputies’ actions conformed to department guidelines, according to the county report.

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maya.lau@latimes.com

Twitter: @mayalau


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