[Audio clip below] – Fredericksburg, Virginia, police are investigating after a man died despite a call to 911, which an emergency dispatcher mistook for a “pocket dial.”
The 24-second call, from 56-year-old Robert Paulus, was placed on April 23 at 11:46 p.m. Paulus, who ABC reported was diagnosed with heart disease, was found dead three days later after his family requested a welfare check.
A family member checked Paulus’s cellphone call log and saw the 911 call, prompting an inquiry, Sarah Kirkpatrick, said a spokesman for police in Fredericksburg, which is located about 50 miles south of Washington, D.C.
Kirkpatrick said the dispatcher attempted to establish contact three times during the call, but was unsuccessful.
“The communications officer did not hear any breathing, movement, or noise for her to believe that the caller was in distress,” Kirkpatrick wrote in an email. “She therefore assumed it was a pocket dial, which happens daily in the call center. After staying on the line for an appropriate amount of time and not hearing anything alarming, the communications officer initiated the hang-up.”
Kirkpatrick said that dispatchers receive 4,000 pocket dials per year. The protocol for responding to a pocket dial differs from responding to a hang-up, which necessitates a call back.
“If a communications officer receives a call and there is no noise, the communications officer will attempt to make verbal contact several times,” Kirkpatrick wrote. “After attempting to make contact and not hearing anything, the communications officer has the authority to initiate the hang up.”
The error was reported to Paulus’ family in early July, Kirkpatrick said.
“This was an unfortunate oversight that the Fredericksburg Police Department is taking seriously,” she wrote. “We are investigating the incident internally and reviewing protocol on how we determine if a call was received by our call center. We will be making changes moving forward to ensure this does not happen in the future.”
AUDIO: 56-year-old Robert Paulus’s 911call in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in late April went unanswered after the dispatch center mistakenly labeled it as a “pocket dial.” Paulus was later found dead. (Fredericksburg Police Department)
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Justin Wm. Moyer