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Published: Saturday, 1/19/2008

Jury convicts Detroit 911 operator who ignored 5-year-old's calls for help


DETROIT - A jury convicted a 911 operator yesterday of willful neglect of duty after authorities said she didn't take seriously a boy's calls to report his mother had collapsed. The mother was found dead three hours after the first call.

The misdemeanor charge against Sharon Nichols is punishable by up to a year in jail. She will be sentenced March 11.

Ms. Nichols, 45, testified she could not hear the then-5-year-old boy on the other end of the line.

Authorities said Robert Turner called 911 twice on Feb. 20, 2006, to report his mother had passed out.

Robert, now 7, testified that Ms. Nichols hung up on him and accused him of playing games.

Police found Sherrill Turner, 46, dead three hours after the first call.

A wrongful-death lawsuit against the city argues Ms. Turner, who had an enlarged heart, would have survived if help had been sent immediately.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lora Weingarden said she was happy with the verdict.

"We are thrilled that the jury found Ms. Nichols' defense to be without merit," she said in a statement. "Her defense was that she could not hear the child. If that were true, how could she tell it was a prank call?"

Robert Turner said he also was thrilled. Reached by phone last night, he said he would forgive Ms. Nichols if she apologized to him. He is living with a sister.

Ms. Nichols left the courthouse without commenting. Her attorney, Cornelius Pitts, said there would be an appeal.

Charges were dismissed against operator Terri Sutton, who took the boy's second call.

She was accused of ignoring protocol by requesting police instead of emergency personnel.

Judge Paula Humphries said there was no evidence of willful neglect.

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