Dispatcher Suspended for Comments About Oprah During Maya Angelou 911 Call

The emergency dispatcher in North Carolina was overheard saying that Winfrey had “fallen out of grace” because of comments she made during a controversial interview last year.

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Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey during the taping of the second-to-last episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show at the United Center in Chicago May 17, 2011.

PETER WYNN THOMPSON/AFP/Getty Images

A Forsyth County, N.C., emergency dispatcher was suspended with pay after making comments regarding Oprah Winfrey during a 911 call on Wednesday reporting the death of her good friend Maya Angelou, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

John Ruckh himself did not take the 911 call but could be heard in the background speaking about a controversial interview Winfrey had back in November with the BBC. In the barely audible background conversation, Ruckh could be heard saying that "Oprah has fallen out of grace," and asking other dispatchers about their take on her interview, the news site notes.

In the interview in question, Oprah said, "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." She then went on to criticize the people who disrespect the nation's first African-American president because of his skin color.

Ruckh appeared to call the interview a "rant" as he summarized the statements, the Journal notes. 

"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, according to the Journal.

Ruckh, for his part, appears to be apologetic about the incident, although he insisted that "this is in no way a racial slur, slander, associated conversation."

The 24-year EMS veteran told the Journal, "Unfortunately, I work in a high-profile job and everything's recorded," adding that he regrets the timing of the conversation in light of the passing of the legendary poet and activist.

"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.

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