FDNY Dispatcher Cleared in Au Bon Pain Case

Another chapter has come to a close in one of the most controversial YCMTSU cases ever, but not before one more dose of controversy. And despite 3 ½ years since the story first broke, misinformation about the case continues to rein.

Recall back in December, 2009, the headlines claimed that two FDNY medics callously sat having coffee and bagels in a Brooklyn Au Bon Pain refusing to come to the aid of a deathly ill pregnant woman because they were on a coffee break. Even as the woman coded the men sat there, telling bystanders to “call it in”,  requiring another ambulance from across town to handle the emergency. The woman and her baby died, prompting demands for criminal charges to be brought against the two medics.

The truth… well… it was not nearly what the headlines initially proclaimed… but why let facts get in the way of a juicy story. The truth was the two “medics” were actually dispatchers and the Au Bon Pain was adjacent to the dispatch office. They were not sitting down cavalierly having coffee and bagels, they were in line briefly at the Au Bon Pain to get something to go so they could return to the dispatch office before their break ended. It was not two men, it was a male and a female, Jason Green and Melissa Jackson. And they were dating.

In addition, they were never asked to render aid to the woman, whose name was Eutisha Rennix, nor were they told that she was gravely ill. In fact as the incident unfolded, an Au Bon Pain employee recognized Jackson as a dispatcher and regular customer, and asked initially if she knew "Eutisha". When Jackson said no, the worker asked her if she could summons an ambulance for "Eutisha". Knowing protocol, Jackson asked what was wrong and was told that Rennix was in the back of the restaurant, that she was pregnant, having abdominal pains, and wanted to go to the hospital. She was also told that Rennix had a history of asthma.

Jackson took the information and called for an ambulance using her personal cellphone. She was never asked to go into the back of the restaurant to treat or assist Rennix. She was never told Rennix needed anything but a ride to the hospital. Green and Jackson left the restaurant without thinking any more about this incident until days later when they were suspended. Apparently the BLS unit that arrived on scene was not equipped to handle the emergency and during a delay in getting an ALS unit on scene, Rennix's condition worsened. She went into respiratory arrest and sustained brain damage. She died later that day and her baby died 2 days later.

In hindsight, should Green and Jackson have done more? I have yet to talk to anyone about the case that doesn’t feel the dispatchers (both of whom were EMTs) should have done more. Maybe not legally, but certainly morally. However, when you compare the sensational headlines to the facts the scope of any possible misconduct by Green and Jackson changes dramatically.

Both dispatchers were suspended and disciplined by FDNY for neglect of duty. Jason Green was shot and killed in what appears to have been an unrelated act of violence on July 18, 2010 outside a Manhattan nightclub.

In October, 2010, Melissa Jackson, was charged criminally with “official misconduct”, a Class A Misdemeanor. Here is the New York Penal Law on the offense:

§ 195.00. Official misconduct

A public servant is guilty of official misconduct when, with intent to obtain a benefit or deprive another person of a benefit:

1. He commits an act relating to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official functions, knowing that such act is unauthorized; or

2. He knowingly refrains from performing a duty which is imposed upon him by law or is clearly inherent in the nature of his office.

Prior to his death, Jason Green gave an interview to the New York Times. In that interview he responded angrily to accusations that he and Jackson neglected their duty and simply let Rennix die. “You’re telling me that at 9:13 in the morning somebody is going to drop dead in front of us, turn blue, and we’re just going to sit there and say, ‘We’re drinking coffee and eating bagels, there’s nothing we can do, we’re trainees? You’re telling me that we’re going to just stand there and just go about our business? That is all bogus and lies and fabrications.”

Fast forward to yesterday, June 26, 2013… three and one-half years after that fateful day of December 9, 2009. The charge of official misconduct against Melissa Jackson was formally dismissed.

The news reports say prosecutors are “blaming” the dismissal on EMS Chief Abdo Nahmod who they claim has “flip-flopped” on whether Jackson violated a departmental rule known as the “flag-down” rule. The flag-down rule allegedly requires all personnel to render assistance to people who request it.

Brooklyn prosecutor Kevin Richardson has been quoted as saying “Based on the reversal of . . . Chief Nahmod, there is absolutely no possible way to sustain a criminal charge against Ms. Jackson.”

Not suprisingly headlines are again ablaze with reports that one of the two FDNY “coffee-break” medics who let a pregnant woman die, somehow got off scott-free…. And also not surprisingly, those who read only the headlines are lighting up the Internet with their condemnation of Green, Jackson, FDNY, unions, public employees, the judicial system, lawyers, and the decline of modern society….

The civil suit by the family of Eutisha Rennix continues and remains as the last legal proceeding arising from the incident. Stay tuned for that one!!!!

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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