MIAMI BEACH (CBS4) – “I’m not a monster who sat behind the radio and intentionally let somebody else die,” declared Damian Janee, the Miami Beach 911 dispatcher at the center of the controversial incident last March in which it took more than 30 minutes for paramedics to arrive at a Venetian Island home.
In his first interview since the incident, Janee admitted to CBS4 News that he “lost” about five minutes during that call, in which 65-year-old Michael Lubin ultimately died.
“I can’t account for those minutes, it looks like five minutes, between the time that I took one action and I took the next action,” he told CBS4’s Jim DeFede. “Don’t know what happened but apparently I had a lapse, a mental lapse in there and did not recover until about five minutes later.”
Janee was vilified after the incident by politicians and others. He was suspended and termination proceedings were set to begin against him on Tuesday.
“The concern is that there was a significant delay in dispatching that call for fourteen minutes,” Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez said in announcing the decision to have Janee fired. “The dispatcher does not have an answer of why that occurred.”
But we may now.
After he was suspended he bumped his head trying to fix his mother-in-law’s sink. The accident aggravated a bump that he noticed months earlier, but had ignored. Late last month he went to his doctor who ordered a round of tests. The news was shocking.
“I have a large tumor, a large mass on the top of my brain,” said Janee. “It’s rather large, but it wasn’t big originally. It was a little bump like all of us would get a bump in the head. And it’s just been growing and growing and growing.”
After he received the diagnosis, Janee said things started falling into place.
“I thought now it makes sense, a lot of stuff makes sense,” he said. “The mental lapses and fatigue.”
The City of Miami Beach was scheduled to begin formal termination proceedings against Janee on Tuesday but abruptly cancelled them after being notified by Janee’s union president and attorney of his medical condition. If he was fired, Janee would lose his medical benefits at a time when he will desperately need them.
“I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now,” said Richard McKinnon, president of Local 3178 of the Communication Workers of America, which represents 911 operators. “He’s got two kids and a wife and it’s a very serious condition. He’s fighting for his life right now.”
McKinnon said he believes the tumor explains the problems during the March 911 call.
“This could have affected his performance,” McKinnon said. “One of the symptoms is you forget things that just happened.”
Janee said he is grateful the city has delayed taking action against him. He said he felt he was being made a scapegoat.
“I felt that they were jumping the gun, that there was not enough critical thinking going behind the decision and they were just making a political decision to show that action was being taken,” Janee said. “They basically presented me as somebody who had the intent, who intentionally did this and tried to hide it.”
He had a message for the community.
“This person right here served them well for ten years,” he said.
He hopes to win back his reputation. But more even more important is that he hopes his two teenage sons will now realize he didn’t let them down. After meeting with CBS4 News, he planned to go home and tell them about the tumor.
“It’s going to be tough, it’s going to take some thinking,” he said. “But they are big now; I think I can break it down for them.”