It isn't often we are dumbfounded by a news story, but we must confess that the case of the woman found dead in a San Francisco General Hospital stairwell weeks after being reported missing has us more than a bit nonplused.
It is bad enough that 57-year-old Lynne Spalding apparently lay dead in the stairwell from Sept. 21 until she was finally discovered on Oct. 8, despite several supposed searches of the grounds by law enforcement. But the release of transcripts of hospital phone calls about the case this week make the San Francisco County Sheriff's Office look like a collection of callous, incompetent buffoons.
The documents detailed sheriff's personnel not only dismissing the severity of the case from the beginning, but making light of it even after the woman was found dead.
In one Oct. 8 transcript an unnamed deputy said, "No, I didn't smell her, but two of our guys f---ed up big time. They are both trying to blame the other one, but they didn't do their job, nothing new. I'm just laughing."
Spalding's family expressed outrage after reviewing the documents. Who could blame them?
We understand that law enforcement officers see so much tragedy in their everyday life that they often use gallows humor as a defense mechanism. Candidly, some journalists do the same thing. But this is beyond the pale.
Setting aside the comments, the actual performance of the department was abysmal as well.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has said hospital officials asked his department to search the entire 24-acre campus after Spalding had already been missing for more than a week.
A day later, it was determined that not all stairwells had been searched and staff was directed to search them, but only half of the stairwells were searched, Mirkarimi said.
Then on Oct. 4, the sheriff said officials received a report of someone lying on a stairwell in the hospital, but apparently no one ever followed up on the report. Spalding was not found for four more days.
The collective incompetence here is nothing short of breathtaking.
But the sheriff's office weren't the only ones. The first reports within the hospital indicated that Spalding was black and wearing a hospital gown when she disappeared, but she was white and found dead wearing her own clothing.
The family believes that neither the sheriff nor the hospital have taken proper responsibility. We find it difficult to disagree.
Mirkarimi's response has been to transfer a few people and increase staffing at the hospital. That hardly seems sufficient.
This was a grave dereliction of duty for which there should be severe consequences.