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Family seeks answers after a 911 call leads to confusionSubmitted: 04/10/2017
Dakota Sherek
Dakota Sherek
Senior Reporter / Anchor
dsherek@wjfw.com

Family seeks answers after a 911 call leads to confusion
RHINELANDER - A bomb squad team, special responders, and dozens of law enforcement officers filled a Rhinelander neighborhood last Friday for what they thought was a potentially violent situation. 

The hours-long ordeal eventually ended with the discovery that it was simply a medical emergency.


"Total shock as to how this all played out and how they [law enforcement] got this information that was not true," said Shannon Smith, daughter of the 911 caller.

Thomas Smith was detained by law enforcement after he called 911 for a medical emergency.

"He point blank was trying to get help and it was taken way too far, and now my dad is in the hospital," said Shannon.

He got medical help, but the family says police wounded him, too.

"My dad does have cuts, scrapes on his head, a bump on his head, cut-up knees," said Alan Smith, Thomas Smith's son.

Sixty-five-year-old Smith has Parkinson's disease, and his family says he cannot physically speak. So when Smith called 911, the dispatcher had to use a special technique to communicate with him.

911 operators can prompt callers to respond through button pushes. 

"It's not been used in… forever," said Oneida County Sheriff's Office Capt. Terri Hook.

When Smith indicated that he needed both the police and an ambulance, the dispatcher asked follow-up questions throughout the 56-minute call. 

Smith's responses led law enforcement to believe Smith was being held hostage by a man with guns and explosives.

Smith's family doesn't buy it.

"When a person cannot communicate, and he's short of breath, you're going to press every button on the phone to get help," said Alan.

The dispatch call ended abruptly. So when Smith exited his home, the Oneida County Special Response team detained him.

The family says Smith was treated roughly.

"He did say he was forced down, he was slammed to the ground," said Alan.

Hook says Smith was not following directions, so Smith was then "decentralized." 

"We acted on the information that we had," Hook said. "We couldn't have acted any other way."

The family says Smith will be OK, but the experience has taken a toll on him.

"He is just really shaken up, he's very upset, a lot of different emotions going on with my family," said Shannon.

Meanwhile, Hook says law enforcement did what they needed to do.

"We needed to keep the community safe as well as our officers safe, and we just did the best we could with the information that we had," said Hook. 

The family thinks the situation should have been handled differently.

"I'm his voice, and I'm going to make sure that this doesn't happen again to anybody else," said Alan.

WJFW spoke with Smith's son on Monday. He said Smith would most likely be in the hospital for a couple more days.




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