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Former 911 Operator Who Cut Short Thousands Of Calls Is Sentenced To 10 Days

Prosecutors said former 911 operator Crenshanda Williams was involved in thousands of very short emergency calls, triggering suspicion.
Houston Police Department via Reuters
Prosecutors said former 911 operator Crenshanda Williams was involved in thousands of very short emergency calls, triggering suspicion.

An unconscious woman, a robbery in progress, cars racing on the interstate: All of these incidents led people to call Houston's 911 system — but not for long. These were among thousands of calls that were cut short by an operator who Harris County prosecutors said simply hung up on the callers.

That former operator is Crenshanda Williams, who has been sentenced to 10 days in jail and 18 months of probation on two counts of interfering with an emergency telephone call.

"Ain't nobody got time for this. For real," Williams was recorded saying after ending a call in which a security guard had tried to report two cars driving at high speeds on Interstate 45 South, according to a 2016 report from local KPRC TV.

Williams worked at the Houston Emergency Center for about a year and a half before she was fired in 2016. Her supervisors had realized Williams was responsible for cutting off emergency calls after just a few seconds, often forcing callers to try again — and to wonder why they couldn't get help.

At the time, Williams reportedly told police that she simply didn't want to talk to anyone. Her attorney recently said, "She was going through a hard time in her life," according to the Houston Chronicle.

Prosecutors said the abnormally short 911 calls happened "thousands" of times on Williams' watch. At court, prosecutor Lauren Reeder of the Harris County District Attorney's Office said the public needs to be able to rely on the 911 system, the Chronicle reported.

When Williams was arrested in October 2016, KPRC-TV recounted several of the calls that she was accused of cutting short.

One of the callers was Buster Pendley, who said Williams hung up on him after his wife collapsed — the victim of a blood clot moving to her lungs.

"She was gasping and I could feel her heart beating out of her chest, but I couldn't get a pulse," Pendley told the TV station. When he called 911, he said, he held the phone in one hand and kept trying to perform CPR with the other.

"The 911 operator answered the phone, and she said, 'This is Crenshanda, may I help you?' 'Wife's passed out. I need an ambulance,' " Pendley recalled. "She said OK, and she hangs up on me."

He called back, and an ambulance eventually came. His wife, Sharon Stephens, survived — but she also told KPRC that she "was furious" that he didn't tell her what had happened, " 'cause I would have, I mean I would have gotten from my hospital bed and gone to 911 and find out who did that to me."

That call took place in March 2016. Days later, Hua Li, an engineer, called 911 to report an armed robbery at a convenience store. He had just run out of the store and was calling from the parking lot. On his way out, he heard gunshots.

"They just said, 'This is 911. How can I help you?' I was trying to finish my sentence, and we got disconnected," Li later told KPRC.

"Li called a second time and got a different operator," the station reported. "By the time police arrived, however, the store manager had been shot and killed."

When Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg's office filed charges against Williams, it accused her of a misdemeanor: interfering with an emergency telephone call. A jury in Harris County found her guilty on Wednesday.

Williams' defense attorney, Franklin Bynum, says they plan to appeal. According to the Chronicle, Bynum said that the Houston Emergency Center's problems run deeper than the prosecution's case suggests and that its phone system doesn't handle calls properly.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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