Family of late Phoenix 911 operator files $35M lawsuit against city for working her to death
02/21/2022 // Divina Ramirez // Views

The family of an emergency dispatcher in Phoenix, Arizona who died after working a grueling 15-hour shift just shortly after recovering from COVID-19 is suing the city for $35 million, according to The Daily Mail.

The dispatcher, 49-year-old Pamela Cooper, collapsed at home the morning after her shift. She was rushed to a hospital in nearby Mesa and put on life support after her heart stopped twice. Her brain was swollen and she never regained consciousness. Doctors did not expect her to survive. She was later taken off life support.

Shirley Ryan, Cooper's mother, said Cooper had informed her about the shift. Cooper has been a dispatcher for 20 years, but it was her first week back after six weeks of taking time off to recover from COVID-19.

Cooper was still feeling unwell but was out of paid leaves. She went back to work since she was supporting both her mother, a widow on social security, and her husband, whose unemployment stimulus ran out. Ryan and Joel, Cooper's husband, both slammed the city of Phoenix for overworking Cooper despite her condition.

"This should never have happened," said Jonathan Michaels, an attorney representing Cooper's family. He said no one should have to die for their job. Michaels has already filed a Notice of Claim to support the family.

Dispatcher dies after 15-hour shift

Ryan said Cooper's first few days back on the job were difficult. But it was not until Friday, Feb. 26 that Cooper really started to go downhill. She texted Ryan around 3:30 p.m. that day and said she couldn't breathe.


She was supposed to clock out at 7:30 p.m., a standard 10-hour shift. However, she was told to stay until nearly 12 a.m. Cooper texted her mother about the situation, who replied that Cooper would be going home in an ambulance if she works overtime. Cooper said there was no opting out or she will get written up.

Dispatch messages show that Cooper informed her boss that she was not feeling well during her extended shift. The city of Phoenix requires dispatchers to work extra hours if there are not enough workers to cover the necessary shifts. However, supervisors should send home dispatchers that report feeling unwell.

Dispatch messages showed Cooper had said "I might die" when told she needed to work until 11:30 p.m. In one message exchange, Cooper's apparent supervisor thanked Cooper for staying on and asked her to help herself to free food provided by the center. Cooper replied that she will remain sitting because she can barely walk.

Records show Cooper eventually left work at 12:45 a.m. The next morning, she collapsed at home. Medics were able to revive her on the scene, but her heart stopped once before she made it to Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa. Her heart stopped twice at the hospital and her brain swelled due to a lack of oxygen.

"They could have sent her home when she wasn't feeling well because that's protocol," said Joel. He claims that the center simply overworked his wife.

Ryan said she thinks her daughter was just worn out from the demanding shift. She also blasted the city for not doing more to protect Cooper from contracting the coronavirus in the first place in January. She claimed that the city did not begin deep-cleaning the dispatch center until after Cooper was already sick with COVID-19.

More could have been done

The dispatch center at Phoenix where Cooper worked was already understaffed prior to the pandemic for many reasons. For starters, it paid very little despite the immense toll it took on dispatchers. In fact, 51 of the 299 dispatcher positions within the city's police and fire departments remain unfilled.

City officials were looking to increase pay last year but had to put it off due to budgetary uncertainties amid the pandemic. To deal with staff shortages, supervisors required that dispatchers work extra hours and "hold over" shifts. But these measures have just led to missed shifts and burnout-driven resignations. In Cooper's case, the hold-over shift led to her death.

Vielka Atherton, a spokesperson for the city, only said the city received the claim. In a statement, Atherton said that their thoughts and prayers go out to Cooper's family, friends and co-workers. She said Cooper made a tremendous contribution to the community after serving for over 21 years. "She will be dearly missed."

Frank Piccioli, president of the dispatchers' union of which Cooper was a member, stated that they will fight on in Cooper's name to put a stop to mandated overtime. "[We] will always remember her spirit," he added.

Atherton told reporters that the city's human resources department will look into Cooper's situation. She noted that extensive measures have already been put in place at the city's dispatch centers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some centers have installed plexiglass barriers and offer free COVID-19 testing to employees.

However, three dispatchers told the Phoenix New Times that more could have been done for Cooper. They also said their supervisors did not always take the threat of COVID-19 seriously. (Related: Fauci denies desperate left’s accusations Trump “downplayed” COVID threat.)

Go to for more articles with updates on the coronavirus pandemic.

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