911 dispatchers in Catoosa County, Georgia recently learned first-hand the consequence of violating the privacy rights of its callers. On December 23, 2015 county resident Ron Darnell called 911 seeking immediate attention after a blood clot broke apart in his body causing an embarrassing yet life-threatening medical crisis.
The 911 dispatcher that received the call, Holly Dowis, followed protocol by documenting Darnell’s personal details including name, address, phone number, and specific reason for calling. But she went completing off script by proceeding to take a camera shot of the dispatch screen and posting it on the social media site Facebook to use as fodder for a group chat session.
Dowis even entitled the post, “A call I just took.”
Although county officials did not hear allegations about Dowis’s misconduct until February 9th, 2016, they quickly went to task by promptly putting Dowis on administrative leave the following day. Two days later, the county had closed their investigation and announced their decision to terminate Dowis’s employment with the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office.
A county 911 dispatcher since 2007, Dowis was even awarded title of “Communications Officer of the Year” in 2013. However, County Manager Jim Walker now admits that Dowis had a history of similar albeit lesser violations for which she had been issued warnings.
For his part, Darnell was not satisfied that Dowis simply got fired as a result his lose of privacy, calling for criminal charges to be filed. While the district attorney is ultimately left with the decision to press criminal charges against Dowis, local attorney Stuart James believes Darnell may pursue a civil case on the grounds of privacy, HIPAA violations, slander, and libel.
Stuart expressed further grievances, saying that Dowis not only violated public trust, but called 911’s reputation into question. Darnell has echoed Stuart’s concerns, wondering how many other residents have fallen victim to breaches of privacy at the hands of 911 dispatchers. While the community awaits more news regarding Dowis’s fate, the incident certainly serves as a cautionary tale for area 911 dispatchers.