FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Forsyth County has reinstated an emergency dispatcher who was suspended last week over comments he made that were picked up during a 911 recording connected to Maya Angelou’s death.
Dan Ozimek, director of Forsyth County Emergency Services, said dispatcher John Ruckh was reinstated today following an internal investigation, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Ozimek declined to provide specifics about the investigation, saying, “It’s a personnel matter.”
Ozimek placed Ruckh on paid suspension last week after reviewing the recording of the 911 call made by Angelou’s caretaker last Wednesday. In the background, Ruckh can be heard talking to a co-worker about an interview that Oprah Winfrey did last fall with the BBC that generated some controversy.
Angelou, celebrated poet and activist, died last Wednesday at her home in Winston-Salem at the age of 86. She and Winfrey were close friends.
Ozimek said he followed internal and county policies when handling the matter.
“I think Dan handled it consistently with how he’s handled other personnel matters, and so I’m very comfortable with his decision and how he handled the whole matter,” Forsyth County Manager Dudley Watts said.
Ruckh has worked for Forsyth County EMS for 24 years. Last week he described Angelou as a “wonderful human being” for whom he had “the utmost respect” and said he regretted the timing of the conversation.
Ruckh said he was just having a conversation with another co-worker about an interview he had seen. He was not the primary dispatcher on the call but was in the same room.
“This is in no way a racial slur, slander, associated conversation,” said Ruckh, who is white.
The conversation is a bit garbled on the 911 recording, but Ruckh appears to be saying that “Oprah has fallen out of grace” with a lot of people and asks a co-worker about Winfrey’s recent “rant.”
He says she is mad because people are not supportive of President Barack Obama and, apparently paraphrasing one of her statements, that racism is alive because so many white people have been raised in the era of hating black people.
Last November, Winfrey spoke with the BBC’s Will Gompertz about race and her role in the movie “The Butler.”
During the interview, Winfrey 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.”
When asked about the challenges and treatment that Obama faces, Winfrey said, “I think that there’s a level of disrespect for the office that occurs, and that occurs in some cases and maybe even many cases because he’s African-American.”