updated 3/11/2008 8:09:49 PM ET 2008-03-12T00:09:49

A 911 operator who authorities said didn't take seriously a boy's calls to report that his mother had collapsed was sentenced Tuesday to serve a year of probation for willful neglect of duty.

The mother was found dead three hours after the call taken by Sharon Nichols.

District Judge Paula Humphries on Tuesday also sentenced Nichols, 45, to perform 15 days of community service. Humphries could have given the woman a year in jail for the misdemeanor but noted that she had no previous criminal record.

"I don't think that a jail sentence is appropriate at all," Humphries said.

Nichols had testified at trial that she could not hear the boy, then 5 years old. Authorities say Robert Turner called 911 in Detroit twice on Feb. 20, 2006, to report that Sherrill Turner, 46, had passed out.

Nichols, who was fired from her job as a 911 operator in July 2006, declined a chance to speak at the sentencing. Wright Blake, a lawyer for Nichols, told the court: "She has lived her whole life being a lawful, law-abiding citizen."

'Sentencing was fair'
Prosecutor Lora Weingarden had asked Humphries for probation and community service, not jail time.

"I think the sentencing was fair," Weingarden said afterward. "When she's not serving as a 911 operator she's not a danger to anybody."

Charges were dismissed earlier against Terri Sutton, an operator who took a second call from the boy. In January, Humphries said that Sutton might have been rude but that there was no evidence of willful neglect.

Sutton declined to comment at Tuesday's sentencing, where she sat with some other supporters of Nichols and held hands with them as the judge considered the sentence.

Sutton still works for the city, but not as a 911 operator, the police department said.

The boy, now 7, testified in January that Nichols had hung up on him and accused him of playing games. Sutton was accused of ignoring protocol by requesting police instead of emergency workers.

Robert and his family didn't attend the sentencing. Lawsuits filed on their behalf are pending.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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