The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to pay $3 million to settle a claim brought by the family of an 11-year-old girl who suffered an asthma attack and died on Christmas Eve 2017 after multiple 911 calls were allegedly misrouted.
The board approved the settlement — recommended by county lawyers who cited the high risk and uncertainties of litigation — without comment. However, a brief summary provided by county counsel stated, “this claim arises from a sheriff’s deputy mishandling of 911 calls,” seeming to acknowledge individual error but no systemic concerns.
Lawyers for the family of Ashley Flores had accused the sheriff’s department of gross negligence, pointing to what they said were problems in the emergency dispatch system, particularly at the Century Station.
Ashley was having trouble breathing midday Dec. 24, 2017, and her 16-year-old sister repeatedly called 911 pleading for help, according to the claim filed on the family’s behalf. The calls were put on hold and then routed to an empty fire station, where they went unanswered, according to the family. Other family members also called, finally reaching a fire dispatcher after five tries, according to the claim.
There was “at least a 15-minute delay” in reaching paramedics and “because of that delay, Ashley died,” attorney Dale Galipo said as he stood alongside the girl’s family on the steps of the Hall of Justice more than a year ago.
“The deputy sheriff who was sitting at that desk … was totally inadequately trained to do that function” and had been taught to forward calls to the fire station, rather than following the correct procedure of routing them to a fire dispatcher who would reach out to the closest ambulance, Galipo alleged.
The family lived in Lynwood, roughly five minutes away from St. Francis Medical Center, where a doctor told them that Ashley could have survived had she gotten help more quickly, according to the lawyer.
The sheriff’s department issued a statement after the little girl’s death.
“We extend our deepest heartfelt condolences to the family on the tragic death of Ashley Flores,” the statement said, noting that then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell reached out to the family personally. “Clearly the death of this little girl is heartbreaking. We have opened an investigation into the incident and until all the facts are clearly established through a thorough review, we will not be able to comment further.”
Galipo said earlier that desk operations at the Century Station, which include handling incoming 911 calls, had failed three years of internal inspections.
No corrective action plan was submitted with the request for settlement, so information on any changes the county has made to the 911 protocols was not immediately available.
Family members, including the 16-year-old 911 caller, said they decided to bring the claim to better understand what happened and to prevent future tragedies.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what my family is going through,” Dulce Flores told reporters. The teen said she felt “surprised, shocked (and) angry” about the way her pleas for help were handled as she watched her sister die in front of her.
Attorney Vicki Sarmiento, who also represents the family, questioned whether the emergency response might have been faster in a different neighborhood.
“Are they getting the same treatment as West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills?” Sarmiento asked during the 2018 news conference, though she acknowledged she had no hard evidence of such a pattern of discrimination.
In its earlier statement, the sheriff’s department said its deputies and their families rely on 911 in emergency situations and it is committed to a complete review of what happened.
“It is essential that we do all we can to ensure the public trust that our emergency response system works. The lives of more than 10 million L.A. County residents depend on it.”