Mimesis Law
27 September 2020

Crenshanda Williams’s Real Crime, And The Charge That Fits

October 14, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Crenshanda Williams undoubtedly has to be the worst 911 operator ever:

After hanging up mid-sentence on a caller, a Houston 911 call center operator was heard on a recording saying, “Ain’t nobody got time for this. For real,” according to charging documents.

That call center operator identified as Crenshanda Williams was arrested and charged after allegedly hanging up on what could be thousands of emergency callers, according to the documents.

It seems that Williams is a complete asshole. She sounds selfish and narcissistic. Ignoring her egregious behavior towards people in need, she also doesn’t seem like the sort of effective communicator who should be answering the phone when people call 911. On top of that, what the hell else does she have to do that’s so important? Perhaps she’s got an even more important side job? Is she a superhero of some sort?

Williams is clearly terrible at her job, but I had to think about it for a minute for the amazing awfulness of what Williams was doing to really sink in. We trust the government to keep us safe, and 911 is the way most people reach out to the government to provide that service. The fact that the person on the other line could be so callous is horrifying. I can’t imagine how people felt reaching out for their safety net in a time of need and being treated the way Williams seems to have treated people.

People do call 911 for really stupid reasons, admittedly.  Reclusive, shut-in neighbors call the police on the people next door over and over again for barking dogs, a porch light being too bright, or other trivial things they could resolve on their own with a simple knock on the door and a polite request. Some crazy people call the police on anyone they’re trying to manipulate. Every once in a while, I see in a police report where a person who’s been arrested used their free call to dial 911 and claim they were being kidnapped.

It has to get old fielding call after call to 911 for trivial reasons, but that’s hardly an excuse for an operator to quit doing her job.  Some people call 911 for incredibly important reasons, and handling those appropriately means treating every call like it’s an important one. People are bad enough about getting to the point when they’re not stressed out. People in the midst of an emergency are even less capable of calmly explaining their situation. A good 911 operator needs patience to figure out if the caller really does have an emergency. Williams clearly lacks that.

The root of Williams’s behavior might have been weariness from having to do a job that takes a serious toll, but there are some big hints it’s something else:

The 43-year-old had been placed under police investigation after her supervisors noticed that she had an abnormally large number of calls that lasted less than 20 seconds.

A review of the Houston Emergency Center database found that “thousands of short calls have been attributed to the defendant” from October 2015 to March 2016.

When interviewed by Houston Police in June, Williams allegedly told officers she often hung up on calls because she did not want to talk to anyone at that time. She was charged with interference with an emergency telephone call, which is a misdemeanor.

Whether Williams is just a self-absorbed, horrible human being or just someone who burned out and quit doing her job isn’t totally clear, but you can probably infer it’s more likely the former based on her statements and course of conduct. However, it doesn’t matter for the people her actions harmed. There’s no undoing the terrible consequences:

On March 12, a man identified as Hua Li dialed 911 at 8:10 p.m. to report an armed robbery.

Li had walked into a store that evening to buy lottery tickets. He heard someone yelling that there was a robbery and saw a man with a gun. Li counted five to six gunshots, then got into his car and drove away, as he tried to call for help.

Williams immediately hung up on Li’s first call, according to the charging documents.

A minute later, Li called again, and Williams answered: “Houston 911, do you need medical, police or fire?”

“This is a robbery,” Li responded.

Williams sighed before hanging up on him again, according to the charging documents.

Again, Williams is clearly unfit to be a 911 operator. That’s not the worst of it, however. Poor Li called a third time and got a real, helpful operator, but it was too late; the store manager had been shot to death.

Sure, Williams would be an obvious winner if they gave awards for the opposite of employee-of-the-month, but what may be most interesting are the charges it seems she actually received, interference with an emergency telephone call.  Here’s one way to commit it:

(a) An individual commits an offense if the individual knowingly prevents or interferes with another individual’s ability to place an emergency call or to request assistance, including a request for assistance using an electronic communications device, in an emergency from a law enforcement agency, medical facility, or other agency or entity the primary purpose of which is to provide for the safety of individuals.

And here’s another:

(b) An individual commits an offense if the individual recklessly renders unusable an electronic communications device, including a telephone, that would otherwise be used by another individual to place an emergency call or to request assistance in an emergency from a law enforcement agency, medical facility, or other agency or entity the primary purpose of which is to provide for the safety of individuals.

For the first portion, “interfere” and “prevent” don’t seem to be defined in the statute and only seem to apply to the act of placing the call or requesting assistance. Williams didn’t hold Li or anyone away from a phone. By the time they contacted her, they’d already placed a call and requested assistance; Williams just took the call, listened to the request, and hung up because she couldn’t give a shit. Perhaps Williams has a defense based on the plain language?

And for the second portion, she didn’t render any device unusable. Indeed, the unsuspected callers who had the misfortune of getting Williams used their phones to call again and again. Their phones worked just fine for calling 911 only to be hung up on by Williams. Her phone also worked fine after the hang-ups. After all, it functioned well enough for her to take the next call and hang up on that person too. That second provision may also not apply.

Those aren’t going to be sympathetic arguments, but maybe they’ll work. Regardless, it’s pretty amazing that Williams wasn’t charged with being a public servant whose horrible performance at work may have risked other people’s lives. Instead, Williams was charged with a statute that applies neutrally and probably mostly to people who don’t work for the government.

It’s remarkable that the only fit Texas apparently has for a state employee who endangers the public is an ill-fitting, broad law probably originally intended to stop ordinary citizens from interfering with other ordinary citizens trying to call for help. What Williams did is so much worse than the statute, but it’s something that was as bad as it was because of her position of authority. Sadly, that’s the likely the same reason why there’s not a more apt criminal law applying to her conduct.

8 Comments on this post.

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  • Lyn Sea
    14 October 2016 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    She needs to be charged with being accessories to some of these crimes that occurred due to her negligence. Also, the family of the man who was shot should sue her, and the county.

    • Greg Prickett
      14 October 2016 at 7:31 pm - Reply

      Accessory charges won’t fly due to the Texas law of parties.

      A better charge would have been Official Oppression (39.03(a)(2)) in that she was a

      “public servant acting under color of his office or employment commits an offense if he:

      (2) intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful…”

      It’s a class A, and I think you would be hard pressed to claim that a citizen doesn’t have a right or privilege to report crime to the police.

  • Melvin K
    15 October 2016 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    > I see in a police report where a person who’s been arrested used their free call to dial 911

    Ain’t “a free call”. It’s “to arrange legal representation”, including posting bond. It isn’t “just one call”, but the staff may cut off evident abuse, calls that are transparently serving that purpose.

    Not one call, because every now and then, your sister isn’t home, the lawyer from the yellow pages is on another line, or the bondsman on the card you were given just isn’t having any.

  • Links #328 | The Honest Courtesan
    16 October 2016 at 6:02 am - Reply

    […] Yet another reason not to call them. […]

  • Dave from Oz
    16 October 2016 at 9:57 am - Reply

    So, those people she hung up on – were they all white=?

    • DaveL
      16 October 2016 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      Given that she apparently hung up on thousands of people, and at least one of them was named “Huan Li”, I’m going to go with “no” on that one.

  • Erin
    18 October 2016 at 9:13 am - Reply

    What she did is inexcusable of course, and she should be charged and held responsible for her conduct. But I’m also concerned about how this sort of behavior was able to go on as long as it did. Are 911 calls not routinely monitored and evaluated? I worked at an outbound call center and at least once a day I had a supervisor listening in to ensure my conduct was professional. Is that not an option for police dispatchers as well? It might keep other people like Crenshanda (who I hope are very rare) from slipping through the cracks.

  • andrews
    6 November 2016 at 4:07 am - Reply

    (a) An individual commits an offense if the individual knowingly prevents or interferes with another individual’s ability to place an emergency call or to request assistance

    Seems a reasonable fit to me. Surely hanging up on someone who is attempting to request assistance interferes with their ability to request assistance.