Family sues Canton 911 operators for $25M, claims dispatch phone turned off because of 'bad day'

The family of a man who died last March has filed a lawsuit against two employees of the City of Canton, claiming one of the 911 operators switched off the ringer on the emergency line preventing the man from getting help.

According to the lawsuit filed in Wayne County, the family of Stephen Greene is suing two employees after his death last March. Greene had been admitted to the hospital in mid February with hypoglycemia, the lawsuit says. Two weeks later, he was transferred to Heartland Health Care in Canton for rehabilitation but suffered a heart attack on March 1, 2018.

The lawsuit states one employee turned off the 911 emergency phone line because she was "having a bad day" and no longer wanted to answer emergency calls. Another dispatcher eventually relieved her of her duties, but did not realize the system was still disabled. Civil rights attorney Jonathan Marko said in a press conference Tuesday that the system was disabled for up to 90 minutes.

In that time, Greene had his heart attack and staff members at the rehab facility called 911 at least 13 times.

Once the system was turned back on, an ambulance was sent and arrived to help Greene within a matter of minutes. But it was too late. He died the next day.

A doctor who reviewed the case says Greene would have survived the heart attack had the ambulance been sent on the first 911 call. Marko said physicians called his death "entirely preventable."

Greene's family is suing the two employees for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death. The Greene family is asking for $25 million in the lawsuit.

Greene and his wife had been married 25 years. She said at the press conference they had been planning for Stephen to come home in a couple days from the facility when he had the heart attack.

Marko said Michigan State Police are also investigating the incident.

"I plan on shining as much sunlight on the City of Canton's 911 practices as possible," he added.

Fox 2 reached out to Canton officials including the public safety director. We were referred to the Township's attorney but are still waiting for a response.

Although The Charter Township of Canton is not named in the lawsuit, Canton Corporate Counsel Kristin Kolb issued the following statement: "First and foremost, The Charter Township of Canton extends its deepest sympathies to the family of Mr. Stephen Greene.

"The missed 9-1-1 calls were reported to a supervisor the same morning of occurrence. Upon receiving the report of the incident the Canton Public Safety Department immediately launched an internal investigation into the actions of the named former employees. The investigation quickly determined one of the named former employees turned down the volume on the 9-1-1 telephone speaker causing the calls to be missed leading to an 8-minute delay in service.

"The two named former employees under investigation were suspended from the department after the internal investigation revealed significant policy violations and evidence of possible criminal conduct. This investigation was submitted for review by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office and the Michigan State Police. Subsequent to the independent investigation, the Prosecutor's Office charged Rachel Rowell with Willful Neglect of Duty.

"The actions of the responsible named former employees are inconsistent with the training, policies and practices of the Canton Department of Public Safety. Additionally, corrective measures have been put in place, and further measures continue to be evaluated by the department to prevent an incident such as this from occurring again.

"In 2018 the Public Safety Department's dispatch center received 142,375 phone calls which included 25,536 9-1-1 calls. As a CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) accredited agency, the Canton Department of Public Safety holds its employees to the highest of standards. Those responsible for this incident have been held accountable, and the public can continue to have full confidence in the professional delivery of service by the Canton Police and Fire Departments."