Originally created 01/20/99

Sheriff's operator dismissed



A Richmond County sheriff's dispatcher has been fired after she sent patrol deputies to respond to a fatal shooting but didn't give them correct details about it -- leading them to leave a south Augusta neighborhood without finding a 13-year-old's body.

Instead, Reginald Belt's father discovered the body of his son 11 hours after an initial call to police.

The dispatcher, Jacqueline Franklin, was fired for unsatisfactory performance, Sheriff Charlie Webster said Tuesday.

"It just didn't click," said sheriff's Sgt. Pat Young, internal affairs investigator. "She just wasn't paying attention to what she was doing."

The mother of one of Reginald's friends first called police shortly after her son heard what he thought was a gunshot as he talked on the telephone with Reginald about 6 p.m. on Dec. 17.

Reginald had been playing with his dad's 9 mm handgun and apparently took the safety off.

The mother, Beverly Williams, first drove to Reginald's Ellen Street home to check on him.

&nbsp•[Audio of Beverly Williams' call to 911 dispatcher. A tone has been used to edit out telephone numbers.]

When she got no response, she went home and called 911, where she spoke to Ms. Franklin, according to police reports.

Although Ms. Williams provided specific details about Reginald playing with the gun, Ms. Franklin didn't send deputies to his address, only to the area around the house. Officers never were told a boy playing with a gun might have shot himself.

&nbsp•[Audio of a dispatcher talking with responding sheriff's deputies]

Deputies drove through the 3900 block of Ellen Street and left when they didn't see anything suspicious.

&nbsp•[Audio Otis Belt's call to 911 after finding his son's body]
It wasn't until Reginald's father, Otis Belt, came home at 5:30 a.m. from a late shift at work that the boy's body was found. Mr. Belt called 911 and spoke with Ms. Franklin, telling her his son shot himself.

"The victim's wound still would have been fatal, but if the correct information would have been put out, then the father of the victim would not have been the one to find him, and there would not have been an 11-hour gap," Sgt. Young said in his internal report.

"It was not a deliberate mistake, but we can never take that call back," he added later.

After the second call, Ms. Franklin sent deputies to the home but didn't tell officers the gunshot was believed to be self-inflicted.

&nbsp•[Audio of dispatcher Williams to patrol deputies enroute to Mr. Belt's home]

On their way to the scene, deputies were on the lookout for any possible suspects and asked headquarters for information about any suspects -- even though Mr. Belt clearly stated during his call to Ms. Franklin that his son had shot himself.

"This places the responding deputies in unwarranted jeopardy as they rush to the address and are also looking for a suspect, which in this case, there was no suspect," Sgt. Young said in his report.

A family friend said the gun was generally kept locked up, but Reginald apparently found a spare key.

Ms. Franklin had been with the sheriff's department since Sept. 20, and all employees are on a 12-month probation period when they are hired.

While normally disciplinary cases are taken before the review board that makes a recommendation to the sheriff, probationary employees can be fired immediately without a hearing, as Ms. Franklin was.

At the time of the incident, Ms. Franklin had just returned from a basic dispatcher certification course in Forsyth, Ga.

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Transcript of call made by Beverly Williams to 911 dispatcher Jacqueline Franklin

Jacqueline Franklin: Sheriff's Department, Franklin.

Beverly Williams: Ma'am um, my son was talking to one of his friends, he's home alone, I don't know where his parents are. He said he was playing with a gun, he heard the child take the thing off safety and he was on the phone waiting for him to say something he kept calling his name and the child never responded. We just went over to his house, he's about five minutes away from us. I rang the doorbell and I called his name and there was no answer.

Franklin: He's home alone?

Williams: Yes ma'am. He's home alone.

Franklin: Okay, I need his address.

Williams: It's 3906 Ellen Street.

Franklin: Ellen Street?

Williams: Yes ma'am.

Franklin: Ah, is that a subdivision?

Williams: It's part of High Point Clark Estates.

Franklin: It's called what estates ma'am?

Williams: High Point 3. If you go inside Clark Estates, it's..

Franklin: It's called High Point Estates?

Williams: High Point 3/Clark Estates. It's in between two subdivisions.

Franklin: And this is Ellen Street, right?

Williams: Yes ma'am, Ellen Street.

Franklin: You know the phone number there?

Williams: Yes, it's (phone number edited).

Franklin: Well, let me get your phone number instead.

Williams: My phone number is (phone number edited). My name is Beverly Williams.

Franklin: (phone number edited)?

Williams: Yes ma'am.

Franklin: Okay and just in case what's his phone number, too?

Williams: His phone number is (phone number edited). This is a private number ma'am.

Franklin: And whats your name again? Your last name?

Williams: Williams, Beverly Williams.

Franklin: And you said that he was playing with a gun and it went off?

Williams: My son said, they were on the phone talking, he said the child had, his father has a weapon in the house and he took the gun out and he took the safety off and he heard a noise. He wasn't sure if it was a gunshot or not but he waited for the child to say something to make sure he was all right and he never responded.

Franklin: Do you know how old the child is?

Williams: He's 13 years old.

Franklin: Okay.

Williams: This happened about 5:35 or so...my son..

Franklin: Okay, we'll send someone out there, all right?. Thank you.

Williams: Ma'am, when will I find out if everything's okay?

Franklin: Excuse me?

Williams: How will I find out if everything's okay? Is someone gonna come to my house and tell me what?

Franklin: Well I'm going to send a deputy out there or would you like me to send a deputy to your house?

Williams: I just want to make sure everything's all right.

Franklin: We'll send someone out to that address.

Transcript of dispatcher Jacqueline Franklin to responding sheriff's deputies

Franklin: 3906 Ellen Street. 3906 Ellen Street. Check for signal 10s (shots fired) in the area around 3906 Ellen Street. Complainant did not want to be seen. 3906 Ellen Street, 3906 Ellen Street. Complainant did not want to be seen.

Transcript of Otis Belt's call to 911 after finding his son's body

s Otis Belt: My son shot himself.

Franklin: Say that again now, your son has shot himself?

Belt: Yeah, he shot himself.

Franklin: Okay, whats your address?

Belt: 3904 Ellen Street.

Franklin: 3904 Ellen Street?

Belt: Yeah, 3904 Ellen street.

Franklin: Okay sir, what's you name, Otis Belt, again?

Belt: Otis Belt.

Franklin: Mr. Belt. I'm showing your phone number as (phone number edited).

Belt: Yes ma'am.

Franklin: Okay, we'll be over there, okay?

Belt: Yes ma'am.

Dispatcher Jacqueline Franklin to patrol deputies:

Franklin: 3906 Ellen Street, signal 10 (shots fired), one down. Correction 3904. 3904. NOD (no other description).

Responding Deputy: Do you have any subject information on (inaudible).

Franklin: Negative at this time.

Deputy: I'm on Tobacco Road at Woodlake now...

Franklin: 10-4 (O.K.)

Meghan Gourley covers crime for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3227 or mgourley@augustachronicle.com.