FORSYTH COUNTY, NC – A North Carolina emergency dispatcher is suspended with pay for comments he made during a 911 call connected to Maya Angelou’s death.
The Winston-Salem Journal reported the emergency dispatcher can be heard in the background talking about an interview Oprah Winfrey did with the BBC last fall that generated some controversy.
The comments can be heard about five minutes into the video above.
Winfrey and Angelou were close friends, according to WGHP.
“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.
Ozimek said the telecommunicator, John Ruckh, has been suspended with pay pending the investigation.
WGHP reported Ruckh has worked for Forsyth County EMS for 24 years.
Ozimek said he discovered Ruckh’s conversation when reviewing the tape on Wednesday.
Ruckh was not the primary dispatcher on the call but was in the same room.
The conversation is a but hard to understand on the 911 recording and takes up less than a minute of the 7-minute call.
Ruckh appears to be saying that “Oprah has fallen out of grace” with a lot of people and asks someone if they have heard her recent rant.
He says she is upset because people are not supportive of President Barack Obama and, apparently paraphrasing one of her statements, says that racism is alive because so many white people have been raised in the era of hating black people.
Ruckh said he was just having a conversation with a co-worker about an interview he had seen.
Ruckh said he regrets the timing of the conversation.
He described Angelou as a “wonderful human being” for whom he had “the utmost respect.”
“This is in no way a racial slur, slander, associated conversation,” Ruckh said.
In a video interview posted Nov. 13 on www.bbc.com, Winfrey speaks with the BBC’s Will Gompertz about her role in “The Butler” and the racial themes addressed in the film.
When speaking about racism, Winfrey says during the interview, “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.”
Despite his suspension, Ruckh said Thursday that he has nothing but the utmost respect for the county.
“In Emergency Services, we deal with a lot of pain and suffering and we make decisions in split seconds to know how to do, what to do and who to send. … However, sometimes we become calloused and insensitive. I really hate that this happened at the time that it did, because this is taking away from Maya Angelou’s passing,” Ruckh said.