911 call released of dispatcher mocking drowning woman in Arkansas

Ark. Police Department receives death threats after 911 call released
Photo via KHBS/CNN
Debra Stevens

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KHBS via CNN Wire) — The 911 dispatcher who took the call of a drowning woman in Fort Smith on Saturday had already resigned before she took the call, Danny Baker, interim police chief, told 40/29 News. That Saturday morning was scheduled to be her last shift.

Debra Stevens, 47, died when her car was swept away by flood waters. The Fort Smith Police Department released audio files of her 911 call.

In the recording, the dispatcher can be heard telling Stevens to “shut up,” telling her the incident “will teach you” and telling her not to cry. At one point she told Stevens she had put herself in danger. She also told Stevens she had other calls to take.

“While the operator’s response to this extremely tense and dynamic event sounds calloused and uncaring at times, sincere efforts were being made to locate and save Mrs. Stevens,” Aric Mitchell, public information officer, wrote in an email to 40/29 News.

40/29 News is not publishing the full audio and video files released by the Fort Smith Police Department at this time, out of respect for the woman who died and her family. We are including brief portions of the 911 call and the police bodycam footage because we believe doing so is necessary to fully inform the public about the police investigation into the 911 call and how it was handled.

WARNING: Some may find the video disturbing.

Police also provided a timeline of events.

Stevens was delivering newspapers near the 5800 block of Kinkead Avenue when swift waters washed her car off the roadway, according to Mitchell. Stevens was unable to exit her vehicle.

Stevens called 911 and reached an operator who dispatched emergency crews. Those crews were responding to many 911 calls from other citizens who were also stranded in flood waters, Mitchell told 40/29 News.

Stevens also had trouble describing her exact location, Mitchell said. When crews found her vehicle, swift rising water made immediate rescue impossible.

An officer put on a life vest and prepared to enter the water tied to a rope, but the speed and volume of water made that attempt futile, according to Mitchell.

Stevens was already dead when first responders were finally able to reach her vehicle.

“I am heartbroken for this tragic loss of life and my prayers are with Debra’s family and friends,” Danny Baker, chief of police, said in a statement released to the media.

“All of our first responders who attempted to save Mrs. Stevens are distraught over the outcome. For every one of us, saving lives is at the very core of who we are and why we do what we do,” Baker continued. “When we are unsuccessful, it hurts.”