5 Calls to 9-1-1 That Definitely Should Not Have Been Ignored
When people first got telephones, they had a new way to call for help. It wasn’t a very good way. To start with, they needed to know the phone number for their local police station, and who has that kind of information handy? They could instead ask an operator to connect them, but they still had to manually share their address with the dispatcher, and this all took so much time and effort that most people would rather take their chances and handle the emergency solo.
Then came 9-1-1, followed by the service known as “enhanced 9-1-1.” As soon as you dialed, emergency personnel knew your location and headed over. Everything changed — or so you’d think. Sometimes, however, even though the call goes through, help does not arrive.
The Five-Year-Old Not-Prankster
In 2006, a five-year-boy in Detroit called 9-1-1, saying his mother had collapsed. The operator got angry with him and told him to hand the phone to an adult. She said she’d send police to his home, not paramedics. Then she hung up.
Three hours later, this boy, Robert Turner, tried his luck and called again. A different operator picked up this time, and she responded much like the first one had, to the point that you might suspect they were following the same script. “You shouldn’t be playing on the phone,” she said. “Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you’re going to be in trouble.”
Police did end up arriving, and they found the mother dead. As for the operators, we know what happened to the first one (who received more blame, as she’d had a greater chance of saving the mother). She received one day’s suspension. She was later fired, but following years of arbitration, that was reversed and she returned to work. The logic behind the reversal was impeccable: She had initially received only a one-day suspension, so the offense couldn’t possibly have been that bad.
The Leisurely Drive
Our next story also comes out of Detroit. We don’t want to be too hard on Detroit, as they’ve been through enough, but the place definitely had an issue with delayed police response around a decade ago. Consider the case of Stacey Hightower, who was stabbed 66 times.
It takes a while to stab someone 66 times. When Jason Peck followed Hightower home in 2013 and started stabbing her, multiple neighbors heard what was happening and called 9-1-1. Then they heard him continue to stab her, so they called 9-1-1 again. He went on stabbing her. It’s possible that police can never arrive soon enough to stop someone who’s about to stab you, but maybe they can come soon enough to get you patched up. These officers arrived 90 minutes after the first calls, which was far too late. Stacey’s mother tried to sue the city for the death, but she ran into hurdles because Detroit was bankrupt.
Peck was sentenced to life without parole for the murder. As for Detroit police, it sounds like they’ve quickened the pace in recent years. They’re certainly far better than the nation’s slowest city, New Orleans, where a 9-1-1 call will on average get police to your door after three hours.
The Mortician Who Really Loved His Job
Kenneth Douglas kept having sex while at work. In many jobs, this might be frowned upon. It should be especially frowned upon in this case because Douglas worked the night shift at the morgue, and he kept having sex with corpses. When he came home, his wife realized he’d been having sex, by his smell. She was naturally angry. He was supposed to be having sex with her.
Or maybe she was angry because he was trying to have sex with her, after having just had sex with a dead body. Or maybe she was angry on behalf of people whose loved ones’ remains were being defiled. Whatever the reason, she found the offense serious enough to call the coroner’s office and report her husband. The supervisor there brushed her off and told her to stop calling. “Whatever happens on county time and on county property is county business,” is how she later described their reply (we don’t know if they used those exact words).
The lecherous morgue attendant was eventually caught in 2008, not thanks to the report but thanks to a police investigation. A man had been convicted of raping and killing a 19-year-old and was appealing, saying he had not raped her. A late examination of the corpse (a post-postmortem) revealed semen that did not belong to the murderer. In time, police found to whom it did belong.
Douglas had had the job for 15 years, during which he said he’d had sex with over 100 corpses. In his defense, he said he’d never tried that when he was sober. He’d only done it after drinking or doing crack.
The Woman Whose Killer Hadn’t Shown Up Yet
Maria Navarro received a call on her 27th birthday with some worrying news: Raymundo was coming. Raymundo was her estranged husband, and his brother was informing her that the guy was heading to her party to murder her. Maria dialed 9-1-1, who told her that the police could not respond to the mere possibility of danger later in the evening.
Maria had a restraining order against Raymundo, thanks to his history of beating her and his threatening to kill the kids, but the police’s hands were tied. “The only thing to do is just call us if he comes over there,” said the dispatcher. “I mean, what can we do? We can’t just have a unit sit there and wait and see if he comes over.”
Half an hour later, Raymundo showed up at her birthday party with a gun. He killed Maria, killed three others in attendence and wounded a couple guests as well, then left. Now, at last, police had cause to check in on him. They found him at his apartment, where he easily surrendered to them. He got life without parole. Afterward, police continued to defend their response to the 9-1-1 call. “You have to make a judgment call over whether a threat is emergent or immediate,” said a police spokesperson. “People get threatened all the time, but that’s a fact of life.”
The Burning Hostages
For our final story, we have some police who actually did go to the scene of the reported crime. They just didn’t do a whole lot once there. This happened in 2007, when a Connecticut bank manager called 9-1-1 about an unusual transaction. Jennifer Hawke-Petit was withdrawing $15,000, explaining that home invaders were holding her husband and kids hostage and she needed the money to get them to leave. One of these attackers was in a car near the bank, while the rest of the family was tied up at home.
Jennifer and the guy drove away, and the police headed to the house. The officers set up an unseen perimeter and hunkered there for the next half hour. In their defense, the cops possibly thought this was not an imminently dangerous situation. The invaders had first entered the home over six hours previously, and they now had the money they’d demanded, so perhaps they would release their captives. On the other hand, if there were little danger, the police could have knocked on the front door without facing any risk to themselves. The invaders, it turned out, were armed with nothing but a baseball bat they found in the house.
The duo spent that half hour having their way with the whole family and then dousing everyone with gasoline and setting them on fire. It got so grisly that at the eventual trial (which ended in both criminals sentenced to death), even the jurors needed counseling for PTSD. Jennifer and both daughters died, while the husband later managed to break out of his bonds and escape the basement, head bleeding. The police ran into the invaders only when the pair — one laughing and wearing the daughter’s hat — crashed into the perimeter, trying to escape in the family’s SUV.
Anyway, apropos of nothing: The Department of Justice released a 600-page report last week on the police response to the 2022 Uvalde shooting. You can go read it if you have some time.