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.


©2014 The Laurinburg Exchange (Laurinburg, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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