Clinton leaders reject Henry County 911’s new rules on lawsuits after cop’s death

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CLINTON, Mo. — The Clinton City Council rejected a Henry County 911 board memorandum on Tuesday that would have prohibited the city and third parties from suing Henry County 911 Communications.

The letter, sent on Nov. 19, followed five lawsuits filed in the wake of the death of Clinton Police Officer Ryan Morton in March 2018. He was shot and killed when officers were dispatched to the wrong home because of a 911 mix-up.

Officers Nathan Bettencourt and Nicholas Kasper, who were also shot in the incident, were joined by several other officers wearing R.I.P. Officer Morton shirts to Tuesday’s Clinton council meeting.

“There was obvious negligence that night — in fact gross negligence — on the part of the 911 Center or the software they were using  or both,” Sgt. John Scott, V.P. of the Fraternal of Police, told the council.

The lawsuits say both dispatchers knew the county’s 911 system at the time provided bad address locations on several occasions before and they knew “dispatching police officers to incorrect locations” “exposed” them to “increased risk of harm, including death.”

Henry County 911’s memorandum said “in light of recent litigation the board has opted to make this agreement a requirement as a new precondition for providing dispatch services for Clinton.” The agreement was set to commence Jan. 1.

“Basically they are asking for the city to sign away our rights to sue as well and gross negligence. That’s not an accident you know,” Scott said.

Councilman Ken Scott, who also chairs Henry County’s 911 Board said, there’s good reason for the new provision.

“Two taxpayer entities using taxpayer money to prosecute the suit and another entity using taxpayer money to defend the suit, that doesn’t make any sense to me,” Scott said.

With Scott abstaining, the council unanimously rejected the proposal. That leaves a big question about what will happen on Jan.1.

“They are statutorily obligated to provide those services,” Clinton City Attorney Doug Harris advised the council before the vote on the “hold-harmless” provision.

Scott countered the 911 call centers are legally obligated only to answer the calls and transfer them to police — not to dispatch officers. But he told the Clinton City Council not to read too much into the “aggressive” language of the letter.

“I’m telling you nothing terrible is going to happen January 1,” he said, explaining instead he’d take the matter back to 911 Board attorneys for further instruction.

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