The city of Jackson is responsible for the wrongful death of a woman who was killed after she called 911 and the operator did not tell her to stay on the line, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in upholding part of the verdict of a jury.
The judges issued the decision on Thursday, nearly eight years after Ruth Helen Harrion, 67, was killed after calling a prowler outside her home, WLBT-TV reported.
The 911 dispatcher did not tell Harrion to stay on the phone, court records show. After the call ended, the walker entered the house and raped and killed her.
Judges ruled that the city should pay Harrion’s family $500,000 because, under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, they were liable for the 911 dispatcher’s actions.
However, judges overturned part of the jury’s verdict that awarded her family $1 million after finding the city violated Harrion’s constitutional rights.
The city had previously said it should not be held liable for the actions of its employees.
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s findings that the dispatcher’s “failure to ask Ruth Harrion to stay on the phone violated written procedures” and that if the victim had stayed on the line “officers would have known the prowler had entered the house and could have…saved Ruth Harrion.
Harrion called 911 after 3 a.m. on July 16, 2014, and a Jackson Police Department shift supervisor, Debra Goldman, answered. Court records indicate that after Goldman took Harrion’s name and told him police would be dispatched, the call was disconnected.
“It is disputed which party hung up first. Undisputed and also shown by a recording of the call, Goldman made no attempt to keep … Harrion in line,” the court wrote. “Nor did she attempt to determine the prowler’s location or if Harrion had seen or heard the prowler.”
Two officers, Tammie Heard and Derrick Evans, were dispatched to the home.
“After checking around the house and observing no signs of break-in, they knocked on the front door, but no one answered and they heard nothing out of the ordinary,” the court wrote.
Officers told the dispatcher to call Harrion, who never answered. An officer heard the phone ringing outside the house. They knocked on the door, but no one answered.
At the time, a man was “holding Harrion hostage” and his body was “found later that day outside the house”, according to court records.