Persistent, nonurgent calls to 911 lead to arrest

Thurston County sheriff's deputies arrested a Henderson Boulevard man Saturday after he allegedly made repeated phone calls to 911 operators without an emergency, but instead "generally rambled," and discussed "his ideas for solving the world's problems," a Thurston County prosecutor said.

A Thurston County emergency dispatcher reported the calls to the Sheriff’s Office about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, according to Thurston County chief criminal deputy James Chamberlain. The dispatcher reported that the man had made “at least seven” 911 calls that day; that he had made two 911 calls on Sept. 9; and that he had made one 911 call on Sept. 8, Chamberlain said.

The dispatcher also reported that the man had made other nonemergency calls to Thurston County 911, but those times and dates had not been noted, Chamberlain said.

The man was warned Saturday to stop making the 911 calls because he did not have an emergency, but he continued to call, Chamberlain said, reading from a sheriff’s report.

He was arrested Saturday on suspicion of felony telephone harassment.

On Monday, prosecutors declined to file felony criminal charges against the 57-year-old man, because he had made no specific threat to the 911 dispatchers, Thurston County Criminal Trials Division chief Andrew Toynbee said. The man was released from jail Monday after the Prosecutor’s Office announced that it was declining the case, Toynbee added.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the man’s home in the 7600 block of Henderson Boulevard Southeast on Saturday, he admitted to making the phone calls to Thurston County’s 911 center, but said “he didn’t threaten anyone,” according to Chamberlain.

In order to meet the state’s statute for felony telephone harassment, a phone call must be made with the intent to “embarrass, torment, or intimidate,” Toynbee said Monday. But in this case, the calls were “general ramblings with no specific content,” Toynbee said.

In a phone interview Monday, Jim Quackenbush, director of communications for Thurston County CAPCOM, said that unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to people to tie up 911 phone lines with repeated nonemergency phone calls.

“It’s important for people to note that we have a limited number of trunks we can take 911 calls on,” he said.

Quackenbush said he recognizes that it is difficult for prosecutors to file charges against annoying or bothersome nonemergency 911 callers unless there is a threat constituting criminal behavior. Quackenbush said that he and others employed in the state’s 911 call centers have lobbied the Legislature to pass specific laws barring people from repeatedly tying up 911 lines with nonemergencies.

“It’s putting others in jeopardy needlessly,” Quackenbush said.

Thurston County’s 911 center alone responds to about 1,800 calls every day, Quackenbush said. At any given moment, there are usually about nine people assigned to take calls at the 911 call center, he added.

Quackenbush reiterated Monday that 911 is only for emergencies.

Telephone harassment is generally a misdemeanor – but in Saturday’s case it was classified as a felony on the Henderson Boulevard man’s booking information because he has prior convictions for the crime, Chamberlain said.

But Toynbee said that in order for telephone harassment to be charged as a felony for a repeat offender, the victim in a defendant’s prior conviction must be the same party as the one in the pending case.

None of the court records that were forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office on Monday indicated that the victims of the man’s prior convictions for telephone harassment were employees at Thurston County’s 911 center, Toynbee said.

Court records indicate that the man who was arrested Saturday had 13 prior misdemeanor convictions for telephone harassment, Toynbee said. The cases were in Olympia Municipal Court and Thurston County District Court, Toynbee added.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465