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Home > Topics > 911

Deputy shortage delays EMS response to assault victim who died

The N.C. county policy requires EMS be accompanied by law enforcement to potentially violent situations

By Abbi Overfelt
The Laurinburg Exchange

LAURINBURG, N.C. — A shortage of available sheriff’s deputies delayed county emergency crews’ response to the Thursday night altercation preceding the death of a Laurinburg man, authorities said Tuesday.

According to Scotland County’s Sheriff Shep Jones and EMS Director Roylin Hammond, crews arrived at the intersection of Crestline and Ray Locklear roads 21 minutes after a call reporting an assault in progress was placed to the sheriff’s office at 11:16 p.m. on Thursday.

The initial call, placed directly to the sheriff’s office, preceded a call to 911 made at 11:27 p.m., after which emergency medical personnel and a sheriff’s deputy were dispatched to the scene. According to Jones and Hammond, both agencies arrived at about 11:37 p.m.

Though Jones said Monday that Watts was involved in a physical altercation shortly before he was declared dead, the cause of death has not been linked to any injuries resulting from the incident. Jones has said the department is waiting on the results of a state autopsy to “tell the whole story.”

According to Hammond, county EMS received a call from a sheriff’s office dispatcher shortly after the assault was reported, who said that no deputies were available to respond to the call. Because county policy requires that emergency medical personnel be accompanied by law enforcement to any situation where violence may exist, Hammond said EMS workers did not respond.

“If someone is going to hurt us, we can’t do our job,” he said. “… that’s just our policy.”

Hammond said a 911 call came in 11 minutes later, at 11:27 p.m., to report an “unresponsive and possibly deceased individual.” Because the call was strictly for medical service, emergency personnel were dispatched immediately, he said, and arrived on the scene 10 minutes later, at 11:37 p.m. Jones said a sheriff’s deputy was dispatched at 11:33 p.m. and arrived at about the same time.

When interviewed for a story about the incident on Monday, Jones said the office had received a 911 call at about 11:35 p.m.

“I can understand why someone would think the response time was close to 45 minutes,” said Hammond, responding to comments made to The Laurinburg Exchanges staff. “When you’re on the scene time feels multiplied.”

According to Jones, a sheriff’s deputy who would have otherwise been on patrol was serving as a substitute for a dispatcher who had called out of work that afternoon, leaving the department with three deputies on duty.

At about the same time as the assault call came in, he said, those three deputies were busy with two in-progress breaking and entering calls and a call for a domestic violence incident.

“It’s very rare that we get that amount of serious calls at the same time,” he said, adding that calls for less-serious offenses, such as larceny, are often moved down in the priority list when a more urgent call comes in.

Four deputies are the standard number who are on patrol at any given time, he said, adding that having any more on duty would require increased funding.

Though the sheriff’s office and the Laurinburg Police Department are known to work together in some instances, Jones said this was a case in which the office did not call any other agencies for assistance.

“That’s a jurisdiction issue,” he said.

The intersection is about 5 miles from Laurinburg city limits and 2 miles from the South Carolina state line.

When EMS arrived, Jones said Monday, they found Watts on the home’s porch, where “a large group of folks” had gathered, some of whom were administering CPR. Watts was taken by ambulance to Scotland Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Jones said Watts had been involved in a physical altercation that night. He said a relative of the home’s owner found him lying near the intersection and brought him to the porch.

According to an obituary in today’s edition, Watts’ funeral services are planned for this Thursday.


McClatchy-Tribune News Service
©2014 The Laurinburg Exchange (Laurinburg, N.C.)

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Peri Ropke Duncan Peri Ropke Duncan Friday, July 11, 2014 7:32:40 AM If there is a big push for sending EMS into active shooter events, changes in policy for situations like this need to be made. It sounds in the article like EMS did not respond at all when told no deputy was available. What about at least staging in the area until one arrives? That could reduce time to patient contact. Or even better, allowing EMS responders to assess the situation themselves in some cases if LE will have an extended ETA. If we are pushing to put us in harm's way in a confirmed deadly situation, then allow us to use the same brains we use to make life and death decisions for our patient to determine whether or not to proceed into "possible" or "potential" violent situations.
Shane Murray Shane Murray Friday, July 11, 2014 9:43:55 AM tough call, most of the time, EMS is not truly in harm's way, but the potential is there , therefore safety measures are taken for a reason. Just because the LE component of the call isn't readily available, doesn't mean policies and procedures should change. EMS did not start the situation and did not injure the patient. We can't be everywhere at once.
Brian Kane Brian Kane Friday, July 11, 2014 10:21:20 AM Peri Duncan: in any active shooter situation responding EMS should be armed; as well has have a dedicated security team. Any such push should also be pushing for the arming of EMS personal. Anyone who says otherwise has never been in the situation of lead flying both ways. Likewise, staging an move ups increases the risk to EMS providers; family finding you a block or two away is pretty scary, & Staging also assumes dispatch was able to obtain the correct location.
Pamela Erford Pamela Erford Friday, July 11, 2014 10:41:33 AM Your 100% correct. Scene safety first. EMS should not be expected to act as law enforcement. I think we have enough to worry about. As being armed?? I'm 50/50 on that.
Jill Combs Jill Combs Friday, July 11, 2014 11:11:38 AM As for me-- I would rather be on standby until LE said to come and stage. We have had to do a few times. Yearrrrrs back my boyfriend his partner were sent into a unknown hot scene. Found out that the person who needed treatment was stabbed and that was never mentioned in the call to 911. The perpetrator was still out there and they made a hasty retreat until LE showed and cleared the scene for safety.
Andrew Kahananui Andrew Kahananui Friday, July 11, 2014 11:48:12 AM If EMS responded to the scene while the assault was occuring, they would probably been hurt or killed as well. The EMS crews cannot care for someone when they themselves have been hurt or killed.
Mark Mann Mark Mann Friday, July 11, 2014 12:37:17 PM If a domestic issue is in progress where injuries are likley, I will respond to closer area. I'm not going closer. If someone approaches the Unit I move the Unit immediately. We do not carry weapons to protect us from a group of idiots that want to fight everyone that approaches. I want to go home at the end of my shifts uninjured and alive.
Irene Hutton Irene Hutton Friday, July 11, 2014 2:35:04 PM Scene safety always. We can't do our job if we are injured when responding. Law enforcement must secure the scene.
Jeff Weller Jeff Weller Friday, July 11, 2014 2:40:50 PM Been doing this since 1982. Sometimes we can/should proceed with caution and go on in. Each call has to be evaluated and communications must relay good info to make this call. I do not have law enforcement with me on a diabetic call with altered LOC which can be just as dangerous if not more so than a call such as this. I have had more drunks and diabetics who were supposedly unresponsive pull a knife or gun on me than I have anyone else. Most times when 911 is called the assault is over and the assailant is making tracks. Each Medic must make this call and live with the outcome.....I have and continue to do so.
George Beltz George Beltz Friday, July 11, 2014 3:25:40 PM Scene safety is the first thing you are taught.
Skip Kirkwood Skip Kirkwood Friday, July 11, 2014 4:36:18 PM Not so. EMS goes in to active shooter scenes AFTER law enforcement has swept the area AND with a direct escort of armed LEOs. There is NO "putting us in harms way in a confirmed deadly situation." This is the current doctrine as taught by DOJ and the state law enforcement academies, as well as by the EMS agencies that have been doing this for a while. EMS enters ONLY areas that have been "cleared" by LE and with an armed LE escort, as part of a rescue task force. Somebody is not reading the lesson plan closely.
Skip Kirkwood Skip Kirkwood Friday, July 11, 2014 4:39:10 PM Wrong. And have been in the "lead flying" situation as an LEO, paramedic, and FMF corpsman. EMS will never be willing to invest the necessary time to train and maintain qualification to carry firearms on duty. And the epidemiology of EMS injury and violent encounters do not support it.
Brian Kane Brian Kane Friday, July 11, 2014 5:17:24 PM Skip Kirkwood In the Commonwealth of PA the only necessary time would be the 5 minutes needed to fill out an application for a license to carry firearms. You mean the shootings of the first elements of public safety to arrive on scene by criminals strung out on drugs? Or perhaps the planned kidnappings of EMS personal because we are unarmed. Or perhaps the fact that ambulances have been considered high value targets by terrorists & been the subject of repeated warnings by DHS, FBI et al because of the ease of acquisition & unquestioned access to nearly any location. Perhaps you refer to the assaults upon EMS personal when we arrive on scene of domestic assaults - which are called in as chest pain, trouble breathing? Seizures, unconscious, or man down, which are drug over doses. Perhaps some people work in a magic system where EMS rolls in 6 deep and always has law enforcement available - but it is not uncommon to be told LOE is not available, or has an extended (half hour, hour) ETA.. The fact is, self defense is a basic human right, that does not go away when you act in a capacity as a medical provider - and a firearm has been one of the most common tools to exercise this right since at least the 16th century. 1 22 & 23 Car. II, c.25 (1671)
Brian Kane Brian Kane Friday, July 11, 2014 5:25:57 PM Skip Kirkwood That puts EMS in the warm zone of an unsecured scene. Which is of course; in danger. In military terms, this would be known enemy in the area and army ambulances (ground or air) would not respond without an armed escort. Per TCCC guidelines, this would also be the first time any aid, other than self aid or a tourniquet would be applied. No one in the military today is old enough to remember the days of conscious objectors or unarmed medical personal, and with the exception of those carry casualty producing weapons (60mm mortars, machine guns), a medic is one of the most heavily armed members of any platoon, with never less than a carbine and a pistol. The location you described is dangerous, not one a "civilian" would enter or be allowed to enter.
Triage Lights Triage Lights Friday, July 11, 2014 5:28:02 PM Go to and share your feedback on the subject or any subject related to EMS. Voice your opinions and share your expertise with the Federal folks who are listening and requesting feedback from those in the field. They need more data to establish the upcoming National Guidelines associated with EMS
Bob Ó Conchobhair Bob Ó Conchobhair Friday, July 11, 2014 6:22:06 PM Much like the police departments failure to protect us we need to do it ourselves, I'll be driving my folks to the hospital code 3 and deal with the cops after in court....
Jessie Fetters Jessie Fetters Friday, July 11, 2014 7:46:55 PM Scene safety first! Stage a safe distance from the scene until LE clears!
Dustin James Squitieri Dustin James Squitieri Saturday, July 12, 2014 6:12:46 AM Mine and my partner safety comes first. That should be every agencies policy. You'll be no help if you're assaulted or dead yourselves
Jennifer Madden Jennifer Madden Tuesday, July 15, 2014 3:07:20 PM This is my cousin that was killed. I think that the issue here is our county's terribly ran sheriff's department & our poor excuse for a sheriff. If there had not been a shortage of deputies then EMS would have been able to respond in a timely manner. If it is "more funds" that we need, let's go back to the add about Sherrif Shep Jones misappropriated funds. Maybe we could afford more deputies after all. I don't understand why we as citizens just sit back & allow these things to happen.

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