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story.lead_photo.caption This screen shot from a Fort Smith police officer’s body camera shows responders walking through a flooded area near where Debra Stevens drowned early Saturday before the rescuers could get to her.

The Fort Smith Police Department has received more than 100 threats since releasing a 911 call in which a dispatcher chastised a woman minutes before she drowned in a flash flood, a police spokesman said.

On Aug. 24, Fort Smith resident Debra Stevens, 47, drowned in a flash flood that swept her car from a parking lot near 5801 Kinkhead Ave. Stevens called 911 when the water began to flow into her car, and dispatcher Donna Reneau, during a 24-minute call, at one point told the woman to "shut up" and scolded the crying woman for driving into water.

Officer Aric Mitchell said the threats, primarily made to the city's dispatch center, mostly came from out-of-state and are not considered credible. Mitchell said the calls and messages ran the gamut from vulgar insults to death threats.

Mitchell said the threats were directed at Reneau, and current dispatchers and officers.

"We're concerned about the safety of our citizens," Mitchell said. "They're clogging lines up with threatening calls to dispatchers, but we'll get through it. Our first priority is to this city and to the family of Mrs. Stevens. We continue to hold their interests close to our heart."

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Mitchell did not have an exact number for the threats but said it was well more than 100 over the holiday weekend.

Over the weekend, national news outlets began airing parts of the 911 audio, which interim Police Chief Danny Baker released last week after media requests. Baker asked the media not to publish the call's audio because doing so would be distressing for Stevens' family.

The audio contains the last words of Stevens, whose panic grows as water creeps into her vehicle. In the beginning of the call, Reneau tells Stevens, "I know you're scared. It's OK. You have a right to be scared." Reneau grows agitated as police responders search for -- and cannot find -- Stevens' vehicle.

"Well this will teach you next time don't drive in the water," Reneau said at one point in the 911 recording. "I don't see how you didn't see it. You had to go right over it, so."

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Police and Fire Department responders had to use a boat to reach Stevens' car, which became completely submerged after Fort Smith received more than 4 inches of rain early on Aug. 24, causing flash flooding. The storm broke the city's 30-year record for rainfall in a single day.

When first responders got to Stevens and began performing CPR, more than 80 minutes had passed since her initial 911 call.

Mitchell said the threatening calls are not considered an immediate danger for any officers or dispatchers, but the department is keeping an eye on the situation.

Last week Baker apologized for Reneau's attitude toward Stevens in the phone call. Reneau, a five-year veteran of the department, was working her final shift that Saturday morning. She had submitted her two-weeks' notice in early August.

Since Reneau no longer works for the department, Baker said the administration cannot open an internal investigation into her actions. Baker hypothesized last week that if Reneau was still employed at the department, she would face some disciplinary action.

The department is reviewing 911 dispatcher training and procedures to see what policy changes could have prevented the Stevens situation. Mitchell confirmed Tuesday that the investigation is ongoing.

"We plan to be pretty thorough with that," Mitchell said. "We want to give it all the attention it needs."

There have been 80 flood-related deaths in the United States this year, seven of which occurred in Arkansas, according to the National Weather Service. Stevens was the only person who died as a result of flooding in August.

Only Texas, with 10 deaths so far this year, outranks Arkansas in flood-related fatalities.

Metro on 09/04/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas police agency receives more than 100 threats after releasing 911 call in woman's drowning


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