Sheriff responds to fire chief: Not going to talk details
Eight months after Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger sent an official complaint letter to Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy regarding a dispatcher’s failure to immediately send a deputy to check on a woman who eventually was hit and killed by a vehicle on Highway 10, a response has been received.
The response is that Brophy is not going to discuss the details of the matter with Cowger.
“Because much of the letter deals with confidential personnel issues and potential litigation issues, I will not answer your letter in detail,” Brophy wrote in his letter dated Oct. 19.
Brophy’s letter also states that the sheriff’s office response to the incident was “made public” in the newspaper and that “I categorically deny any wrong doing by the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office. I categorically deny your opinion of ‘improper dispatching process” by the sheriff’s office.”
Cowger’s complaint letter was sent in March following two incidents involving dispatch and deaths. In it he asked questions about what policy or training standards are used by dispatchers, the system as a whole and what Cowger calls “lack of oversight, proper training and personal accountability.”
Cowger sent his complaint letter to several local agencies.
Brophy sent his response to Cowger, the Stillwater County Attorney and the News. Brophy had left for vacation by the time the News received it and he could not be reached for further comment or questions.
Two incidents involving fatalities and questions about the response time of the dispatcher on those calls occurred the week of March 21, 2016. The first was on March 21 involving an accident at 2:42 a.m. on I-90 in which a woman was killed, one man was seriously injured and a second man was also injured. The crash was reported by two 911 callers. MHP was contacted and sent a trooper out of Billings who arrived on scene about the same time Columbus Fire Rescue did, which was approximately 3:25 a.m., according to dispatch records.
An internal investigation conducted by Brophy determined the dispatcher had followed proper protocol.
The second incident occurred March 24 when the dispatcher received three different notifications from three different people of an elderly woman in need of help in the area of Highway 10.
The dispatcher took more than an hour to send a deputy and by that time, Marian Maltsberger had been hit and killed.
That internal investigation revealed the dispatcher had failed to follow policy.
The specific policy she violated falls under “Dispatching” listed on a 12-page Public Safety Answering Point policy, which reads as follows:
1. Communications Officers shall dispatch the appropriate agency as soon as reasonably possible. If the appropriate agency cannot be dispatched within a reasonable time, then the reason shall be documented on that CFS (call for service).
a. The top four priority calls as defined in B(3) should have someone dispatched within two minutes.
b. All other calls should be dispatched within 10 minutes.
Those top four priority calls are as follows, according to policy:
•Emergency service providers in life threatening situations have first priority.
•All other life threatening situations have second priority.
•Situations that could result in personal injury have third priority.
•Situations that are in progress and had just occurred and could result in loss of property have fourth priority.
Brophy said that because the dispatcher had not completed all her training, her discipline was limited. In addition to being placed on administrative leave with pay during the investigation, she was required to undergo remedial training before returning to work, which she did.
Cowger’s letter stated the pedestrian death demonstrates the system has failed and that there have allegedly been “multiple times within the past months and even last couple of years where not only we, but also Columbus Police Department officers and even your own deputies have expressed concerns to administration on various different issues such as dispatch time discrepancies, what agencies are dispatched to and what we aren’t, how long calls are held before being dispatched, not sending the appropriate agencies to the appropriate calls, not following any types of protocols and lack of information transfer. I can tell you of at least multiple additional instances of such type of things that have occurred in just the last month in addition to the two cited above that involve multiple other dispatchers. I was going to file a complaint on them right after the MVA call of the 21st.”