The potential prosecution of 911 caller Ronald Ritchie for making false alarms in the John Crawford III fatal police-involved shooting has caused concern that people may not call dispatchers for fear of being wrong, according to local legal and law enforcement sources.
The Fairborn city prosecutor has received the case and are reviewing it, according to a press release issued Friday morning.
“We are currently evaluating that decision,” the release said. “In addition, our office is aware that a number of citizens have expressed concern with regard to utilizing the 911 system. We hope this week’s decision does not have a deterrent effect, and we strongly encourage citizens to continue using 911.”
Said Cedarville University professor David Rich:”That’s a part of my worry with this. Having had a law enforcement background, you want people to actually call. The people are your eyes and ears on the street. This could actually put cold water on anyone being concerned about calling 911 and then being prosecuted.
“You don’t people to clam up or feel like, ‘Well I’m worried if I don’t get it right.’ People when they call 911 don’t always see it right. Officers responding to a call always know that it could be better or it could be worse when they actually show up to the scene,” said Rich, who graduated from the Greene County police academy before a career as a city manager and public administrator.
Even though local sources said prosecuting Ritchie would be a tall order, some readers told this news organization people won’t take the chance in calling 911.
“Who will ever want to report anything anymore?” one woman asked. “I don’t think he should be prosecuted.”
University of Dayton law school professor emeritus Tom Hagel said people know 911 is for true emergencies, but pointed out a situation where a person truly believed what they were saying but turned out to be wrong.
“Are we going to prosecute people like that?” Hagel said. “If we do, what’s going to happen is, most people are going to sit back and say, ‘Hey, look, I don’t want to be facing criminal charges if I’m wrong.’ So I’ll just let somebody else do it, or nobody do it.”
As prosecutors review the Ritchie case, it is unclear when and how their decision will be announced. The case could be dismissed and even if it did go forward, many steps would happen before any trial took place on the first-degree misdemeanor charge with maximum sentences of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“I think the damage is done,” Rich said. “I think it has a very chilling effect on individual citizens who, in good faith, are calling law enforcement with facts that they see or as they see them on the ground and, yeah, they’re going to be reluctant to make that phone call.”
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.