A North Carolina emergency dispatcher has been suspended without pay for several comments he made during the 911 call reporting the death of Maya Angelou.
Forsyth County dispatcher John Ruckh was recorded on Wednesday making the comments in the background of a call placed by Angelou’s caretaker. The celebrated poet, actress and activist died that morning at the age of 86.
In the county’s recording of the seven-minute call, Ruckh can be heard talking about controversial comments on racism that Oprah Winfrey made last fall during a BBC interview. Angelou and Winfrey were extremely close, with Oprah saying her beloved mentor inspired her in numerous ways.
"What stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace," Winfrey said on Wednesday after learning of her friend's death.
Ruckh did not answer the call from Angelou’s caretaker. But he can be heard reciting statements from Winfrey’s interview and asking other dispatchers if they had seen it.
Dispatcher Shannon Brooks, who actually answered the call, continued to direct Angelou’s caretaker through CPR, despite the comments from Ruckh in the background. Brooks' actions have been commended by EMS staff.
"These comments are unacceptable, and we have opened an internal investigation to look into the circumstances surrounding this event," Forsyth County EMS Director Dan Ozimek said in a statement.
Ruckh, who has worked for the county EMS for 24 years, told the Winston-Salem Journal that he respects Angelou and his comments were inappropriately timed. "Unfortunately, I work in a high-profile job and everything's recorded. This is in no way a racial slur, slander, associated conversation," said Ruckh.
Ruckh added that he respected Angelou and regrets the timing of the conversation.
"I really hate that this happened at the time that it did, because this is taking away from Maya Angelou's passing."
In the BBC interview, given while she was promoting her film “Lee Daniels' The Butler,” Winfrey talks about the history of race in America.
"There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die," Winfrey said in the interview. She also said that President Barack Obama has been the victim of racism.
“There is a level of disrespect for the office that occurs,” Winfrey said. "And that occurs in some cases and maybe even in many cases because he’s African-American. There’s no question about that, and it’s the kind of thing that nobody ever says, but everybody is thinking it.”