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'She can never be replaced': Husband of former Phoenix 911 dispatcher plans to sue city after wife's death

Posted at 5:42 AM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 07:42:19-05

PHOENIX — Some may remember Pamela Cooper as the voice on the other end of the line when they needed help.

Her husband Joel Cooper remembers her sense of humor, her smile, and her selflessness.

“She is definitely someone that doesn’t deserve to go," said Joel.

Pamela worked as a 911 operator in Phoenix for more than 21 years, up until last week when she passed away.

“I never thought that I would be here in this position," said Joel. "Her and I had talked about what would happen if something happened to me, you know, what we would do and stuff like that. We never, ever talked about if something happened to her.”

"The way they treated her was just absolutely deplorable," said attorney Jonathan Michaels, now representing the Cooper family in a wrongful death claim against the City of Phoenix. "I mean, they were working this person like a dog when they came back from being out on a very serious and very extended sick leave."

In January, Pamela contracted COVID-19 as the virus spread among her coworkers. According to her husband, she's struggled with asthma most of her life, which put her at higher risk for complications.

“I don’t know how many total cases there were, but I probably heard of at least eight over a period of time," he said. "That’s too many, you know, that’s just ridiculous.”

Pamela was out for six weeks fighting the virus.

"While some of that time constituted paid sick-leave allotted to her by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, some of the time away from work was unpaid," reads a notice of claim sent to City of Phoenix officials Wednesday.

Pamela decided to go back to work in late February, but only days later, had trouble breathing.

She notified her supervisor, according to attorneys, but was mandated to work overtime.

Instead of her usual 10-hour shift, Pamela was forced to work 16 hours straight.

"At the time of the incident, the Phoenix 911 dispatch center was understaffed due to relatively low pay and burnout," wrote Michaels. "As of March 2021, fifty-one of the 299 positions between the police and fire departments, which operate separate dispatch centers, were unfilled...The management for the Phoenix 911 dispatch center decided to deal with their understaffed workforce by implementing 'mandatory' employee overtime and 'hold over' shifts. Under this program, dispatchers were forced to stay beyond their 10-hour workday, regardless of any competing personal issues, such as child-care or health concerns."

Joel says he watched Pamela struggle to breathe the next morning and yelled, "I'm going to die," before she collapsed.

“To sit there and just watch her heart stop and everything and not be able to do anything is not something that you want to remember for the rest of your life," he said. “ [The City of Phoenix] didn’t seem to care and unfortunately it cost me more than it cost them.”

Pamela spent her final days at Banner Baywood Medical Center in a coma before Cooper made the difficult decision to take her off life-support.

“This probably wouldn’t have happened if Pam wouldn’t have contracted COVID at work in the first place," said Joel. "If they would’ve taken care of that stuff in the beginning, we wouldn’t be sitting here but unfortunately they didn’t. They didn’t take it serious.”

Joel is now seeking $35 million in damages from the city for "reckless and grossly negligent" behavior he believes lead to Pamela's death.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Pamela Cooper’s family, friends and co-workers, said Phoenix spokeswoman Vielka Miller. "Pamela made a tremendous contribution to our organization and the Phoenix community with over 21 years of service. During those years she was a lifeline for those who needed help. She will be dearly missed."

Miller says Phoenix does not track cases based on job title but reported 776 cases of COVID-19 among the Phoenix Police Department over the last year.

Miller says Phoenix is investigating the matter and is reviewing the Notice of Claim filed on behalf of Cooper's family Wednesday.