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Willful Neglect Charges Dropped Against One Michigan Dispatcher

DETROIT -- A judge dismissed charges Wednesday against one of two 911 operators accused of willful neglect in mishandling a call from a Detroit boy whose mother was lying unconscious in their apartment.

Judge Paula Humphries of 36th District Court said Terri Sutton, a 19-year veteran, may have been rude to the boy over the phone, but she requested a police car, which arrived within 5 minutes.

"Does rudeness equate to willful neglect?" Humphries said. "Having heard the tapes, I believe the operator may have been rude, but I don't see enough evidence for willful neglect."

The judge issued the ruling after prosecutors rested their case against Sutton and another 911 operator, Sharon Nichols, who faces the same charge in connection with a separate call on Feb. 20, 2006.

Sutton let out a low-pitched scream and hugged her attorney David Lee, who requested the dismissal before presenting his side of the case.

Sutton seemed relieved.

"I feel very happy and I just want to thank Judge Humphries," she said. "This case has turned my life upside down, literally."

Nichols' case is still proceeding.

Robert Turner, then 5, called 911 twice over three hours after his 46-year-old mother Sherrill Turner fell over unconscious in her bedroom. It was later determined that she died of an enlarged heart.

Nichols took a call at 5:59 p.m. and coded the call as a prank. She did not request any response from police or EMS.

Sutton took a call at 9:02 p.m. and requested police, who responded within five minutes and found Sherrill Turner dead.

"I feel bad for the family, especially young Robert, but I did my job at the time," Sutton said.

Sutton said she is now working in the police department's property room. She said she was suspended for five days after the incident.

Robert's older sister, Takisha Turner, 24, said she's furious with the judge's decision.

"I think it's completely wrong that the judge let her off like that," said Turner, who is now raising her younger Robert. "She's walking away from this and we don't have our mother."

Turner said she's hopeful the jury will convict Nichols but still believes Sutton should also be held accountable.

"Not only was she rude and nasty, she didn't send an ambulance. She should have sent an ambulance first instead of police."

Lee said Humphries was courageous to dismiss the case on what is usual a routine motion by defense lawyers in the middle of a trial.

"This case should have never been charged," Lee said. "It was a hasty, ill-advised decision to prosecute by the Wayne County Prosecutor."

Lee said prosecutors could appeal Humphries decision. He's not sure whether they will appeal.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," he said, smiling.

Contact BEN SCHMITT at 313-223-4296 or bcschmitt@freepress.com

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