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A St. Louis (Mo.) man is appealing his 2009 murder conviction, saying a jury should have been allowed to hear a 911 call he made to a dispatcher who gave him CPR instructions for his girlfriend’s 3 year-old daughter whom he found unconscious. Quintin Gray Sr., 26, has also raised several other issues of evidence in his appeal, including the exact cause of death. Police arrested Gray in Feb. 2008 after hospital doctors called police to report the child died from blunt force trauma. A jury found Gray guilty of second-degree murder in Dec. 2009, and two months later a judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison. His attorney now hopes to convince the Missouri Court of Appeals that the trial judge erred when he ruled the 911 call was hearsay, and would not let the jury consider it as evidence. During that call, a dispatcher instructed Gray to perform CPR with the palms of his hands—used for adults—and not with his fingers, as used for small children. That CPR mistake could have caused the injuries that the toddler suffered, Gray contends, leading to his acquittal. The prosecutor believes the 911 call was properly excluded, since Gray did not take the stand during the trial, and could not be cross-examined about his “testimony” as heard on the 911 tape. Read more about the case and listen to excerpts of the 911 call here. Download (pdf) a copy of the defendant’s and attorney general’s legal briefs filed in the appeals court here.

When a suicidal woman drove her van into the Hudson River last night in tiny Newburgh (NY), four of her children were inside the vehicle with her. But her 10 year-old son managed to escape from the van as it was sinking and swim to shore. A passerby drove him a short distance to the Newburgh fire station, where lone dispatcher Ismael Torres answered a knock at the front door about 8 p.m. and took the child inside. Torres questioned the child, who was wet, cold and initially unable to coherently described what had occurred. However, with patience, Torres determined what occurred and pinpointed the van’s location, then dispatched police and fire units to the scene. Sadly, Lashanda Armstrong and her three children, ages 2, 5 and 11 months, did not survive. Torres told reporters he obtained a blanket for the child and bought him some M&Ms. “My emotions started kicking in where you want to cry but you know that all you are going to do is delay the response if you let your emotions kick it,” Torres told a reporter. Police said that 10 minutes before the drownings, they received a report from an Armstrong relative of a domestic disturbance at her apartment. However, when officers arrived, they found the apartment empty. Watch a video about Torres’ actions after the break. [click to continue…]

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has embarked on a wide-ranging inquiry into the reliability and resiliency of the nation’s communications networks, specifically how they might perform in the face of a Japan-level earthquake or other catastrophic disaster. The formal Notice of Inquiry will also encompass two prior inquiries related to Hurricane Katrina and broadband network reliability. Specifically, the FCC will study continuity of networks, whether service standards are needed, how the FCC can foster improved reliability, and what legal authority the FCC might use to improve communications. Beyond public safety and 911 services, communications reliability affects the financial, government, medical and power industries. In its notice, the FCC said, “People dialing 9-1-1, whether using legacy or broadband- based networks, must be able to reach emergency personnel for assistance; and when networks dedicated to public safety become unavailable, first responders must have access to commercial communications, including broadband technologies, to coordinate their rescue and recovery efforts.” Download (pdf) the FCC Notice here.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has served a search warrant on the home of aWisconsin man, based on information he was making hundreds of harassing and threatening telephone calls to sheriff’s departments in two states. The search warrant makes it clear that hoax calls can be traced, although it takes time and some expertise to accomplish. In this case, the FBI traced the calls back through the switched telephone network to Skype, an VoIP-based telephone service, and to the account of Mason Seckar, a 20 year-old living in Oshkosh. The FBI searched Seckar’s home last month, but no one has been charged in the case. The investigation started last January when the St. Johns County (Fla.) sheriff called in the FBI after receiving a series of 180 hoax calls. A male reported crimes, asked questions, taunted police, or just remained silent. The calls were made to the sheriff’s toll-free number and could not be immediately traced. However, in a search warrant affidavit written by the FBI, an agent detailed how he tracked the calls to a Skype account and to Seckar through IP address and e-mamil records. During the investigation, the FBI also turned up a strange connection: during a hoax call to St. Johns SO, the suspect also called the Rice County (Minn.) Sheriff’s Office, and conferenced the two agencies together. Download (pdf) the FBI affidavit here. [click to continue…]

Burglar alarms that are activated by motion sensors and then transmit video to a central station should be given priority by law enforcement agencies, according to a campaign by a company that sells the equipment. RSI Video Technologies markets wireless alarm devices, and during this week’s annual International Security Conference-West in Las Vegas, a company representative outlined how video-verified alarms should be classified as Priority 1 when handled by public safety comm centers. Keith Jentoft, president of RSI’s subsidiary Videofied, said he is hoping to convince comm centers to create a special incident type code for video-verified alarms, dispatching them before other types of alarms. Comm centers would also need to create a special e-mail address to receive the 10-second video clip that his company’s gear takes when an intrusion alarm is activated. He noted that Videofied equipment has been endorsed by the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), and is in use by several agencies, including the Boston Police Department. Read more about RSI’s promotion here, surf their “Priority Response” Web site that promotes comm center acceptance, and check out their alarm gear here.

Officials at the Monroe County (Mich.) Central Dispatch comm center say a two-year dispatcher has accepted a “permanent layoff” without the chance for a recall after criticism that she delayed a response to a freak accident that killed a postal worker in the town of Dundee. Center director Alan Frank would not name the dispatcher, admitted that the 13-minute response delay was unacceptable. Postal officials and Dundee police said postal carrier Nancy Schafer was making her rounds delivering mail when she stepped onto the concrete slab porch of a home. The slap gave way, dropping Schafer eight feet into a former stairway to the home’s basement. Heavy pieces of concrete then fell on Schafer, pinning her down. She was talking to a co-worker on a cellphone at the time, and managed to give her address. The co-worker called the main post office, and a supervisor there dialed 911. The county dispatcher asked for Schafer’s location, and the supervisor replied, “She said she though it was 290 Midway.” However, the dispatcher asked if the caller had any phone contact with Schafer, and the supervisor said, “No, I’m going to go out there right now and I’ll have my cell phone and I can call back.” At that point, the dispatcher told the supervisor, “Yeah why don’t you give us a call back so we can have an exact location.” When the supervisor arrived, she dialed 911 again and units were dispatched for the first time. It took a tow truck to crane the 500-pound pieces of concrete off Schafer, and she died later at the hospital. Watch a video after the break. [click to continue…]

A series of logging recorder tapes has been released that document the kidnapping of a Clarke County (Geo.) man who escaped from the trunk of his car, officers confronting the suspect, a fatal shoot-out and a pursuit that led to a hostage situation. The tapes were released by the Athens-Clarke County police yesterday, revealing how the robbery victim dialed 911 to report that he had been kidnapped and stuffed into the trunk of his own car. Radio transmissions follow officers as they search for the car. Then, without warning, a radio transmission breaks in with “Officer shot!” A dispatcher immediately picked up a telephone to request an ambulance, saying to himself or someone else, “Keep it together.” As the phone continues to ring, he says with some anger, “Come on. Pick up the damn phone!” More radio transmissions report the suspects have fled, abandoned their car and carjacked another one. Athens-Clarke County police officer Elmer Christian was killed by the suspect and officer Tony Howard was wounded. The suspect surrendered four days later after a stand-off during which he held 10 hostages. Read more about the incident here, and listen to the logging tapes below.

Last year legislators in Connecticut failed to pass a law that would have required “regionalization” of the state’s public safety answering points (PSAP) in cities under 40,000 population, leaving local politicians wondering what to do as they consider next year’s budget deficits. Besides requiring consolidation, Senate Bill 312 would have cut off state funding for any city that didn’t merge with at least two other jurisdictions. It would also have required the state’s 911 agency to study the current PSAP arrangement, and determine an optimum number of consolidated centers. Recently the town of Ridgefield delayed spending $225,000 on new E911 gear, fearing the legislation may be revived and state reimbursement funds would be withheld. Selectmen in the town of 25,000 residents are also debating whether consolidation would really be a good idea. Read the failed SB312 legislation here, and some pros and cons about the bill here. Read about Ridgefield’s debate here.

Police in Meriden (Conn.) have arrested one of their own dispatchers, accusing her of tipping off a man that officers were surveilling as part of a drug investigation. Alacoque Gonzalez, 53, was charged with second-degree hindering prosecution, conspiracy to commit second-degree hindering prosecution and interfering with an officer. The case recalls similar arrest in 2009 when an Illinois dispatcher tipped off a drug suspect that he’d been reported by a citizen and that officers had been dispatched to investigate. In this case, Gonzalez allegedly was on-duty when officers requested registration information on the suspect’s vehicle. Police station video surveillance tapes showed Gonzalez leaving the comm center right after the records check to use her cellular phone. Acting on a tip, police began an investigation into Gonzalez. After the drug suspect was arrested, officers examined his cell phone and discovered text messages from Gonzalez warning he was under investigation. Read more about the case here.

A diligent Chula Vista (S. Calif.) police dispatcher tried to keep a 911 caller on the line after he confessed to fatally shooting his wife, and also tried to keep him from killing himself, but didn’t realize the caller had spoofed the ANI/ALI information and the call was a SWATing hoax. After three hours, police entered the condominium where the man said he was and found it empty. Police say the March 17th call was made with a VoIP connection and the ANI/ALI  displayed the condo’s actual phone number and address. The call generated a significant police response, and included the lock-down of a nearby school. The caller, who said his name was Christopher, spoke softly and authentically. He hung up several times, despite the dispatcher’s request for him to stay on the line. He said his wife’s name was Jennifer, and said he’d also tried to drown her. The female resident of the house showed up at the scene during the incident to say she lived there with her fiancé and a roomate, and that she didn’t know who made the call. Now police have released logging tapes of about three minutes of the 911 call, hoping that someone will recognize the man’s voice. Read more about the incident here, and listen to the call here.

When Chancey Smith began loading ammunition into several firearms and talking about a murder-suicide, a friend dialed 911 to warn police that he intended to kill his ex-girlfriend. But despite the man’s call to a Lexington County (SC) 911 dispatcher, Smith finished readying his weapons and drove several miles to his ex-girlfriend’s house, where he shot and killed her, her 9 and 6 year-old children, and then himself. The 911 caller knew Peake’s name, but not her address, so deputies tried to intercept him before he left home or on the way. At one point a deputy passed the suspect going the opposite direction, but didn’t realize it. Now sheriff’s officials are piecing together the timeline of the incident to determine what happened between the 9:54 p.m. 911 call and the 10:11 p.m. arrival of deputies at Amanda Peake’s house. Read more about the incident and listen to the 911 call here.

As a 75-car train carrying tanks cars of flammable alcohol approached Rockford (Ill.) back in 2009, the locomotive crew hadn’t yet been notified that a 10-foot section of trackbed ahead of them had been washed away by heavy rains. In fact, passing motorists had noticed that the railroad tracks were hanging unsupported five feet above rushing water, and dialed 911 to report it to the Winnebago County sheriff’s comm center. But it was 62 minutes before the washout information was relayed to the train crew, at almost the same moment that 17 tank cars derailed and caught fire. A motorist stopped at a nearby crossing died when she tried to escape the growing flames. Now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has finished collecting factual information about the incident, and has posted it on-line for public review. It includes logging tapes, photographs and transcripts of interviews with Winnebago County sheriff’s and Canadian National train officials. Browse the collection of NTSB documents, including logging tapes and photos.

A Connecticut State Police dispatcher was arrested last month and charged with computer crimes after investigators allege she illegally accessed the state’s criminal justice database by running her mother’s name. Nataya Davidson, 31, was also reassigned to clerical duties at the Hartford barracks during an internal investigation. According to an arrest warrant, during a routine audit of criminal history inquiries made in June 2010, the state police discovered a request without the required supporting case number. When questioned about the inquiry, Davidson said she didn’t know why the name was run, but later said a trooper requested it. She provided a supporting case number, but investigators said that number was actually for a traffic stop that occurred the day before Davidson was initially questioned. Finally, she admitted running her mother’s name in connection with her mother’s arrest in 2009 on child endangerment charges. Davidson was released on bail and next appears in court this week.

Officials in Erie County (Penn.) say they will pay $54,000 in back pay to 54 current and former comm center employees in the wake of a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) investigation into overtime pay related to a 3×12 shift configuration. The pay ranges from just $48.36 owed to one employee, up to $2,167.33 owed to another. According to county officials, they obtained permission from the dispatchers’ union in Feb. 2009 to change comm center shifts from the standard 5×8 configuration to 3×12. The county-union agreement was that dispatchers would be paid straight time for all hours under the 3×12 plan. Dispatchers would not receive federally-required time-and-one-half overtime pay for time they would routinely work over 40 hours each week under the 3×12 shift plan. Last November the DOL received a complaint and began an investigation that confirmed the shift configuration, and that time worked beyond 40 hours had not been paid at the federally-required time-and-one-half rate. The DOL said that the dispatchers’ union may not waive the dispatchers’ right to overtime pay. Union officials said their negotiators must have been unaware of the overtime pay requirement, while county officials said were unaware of the shift change. Read more about the labor law issue here. [Editor: In general, a 3x12 shift configuration creates some overtime each week, requiring overtime pay. There are several types of 3x12 shifts, but you can see several examples here. View the DOL overtime regulations here, and download (pdf) a DOL opinion on overtime here.]

Over half of the 87 suspensions handed out by the Boston (Mass.) police department last year were to civilian dispatchers or sworn police officers in the communications center, according to records obtained by the Boston Globe newspaper. Most of the comm center discipline involved excessive sick leave and not showing up for work, the newspaper learned. Of the 161 civilians assigned to the comm center, 21 were disciplined for abusing sick leave or being absent without permission during 2010. The newspaper noted that several employees missed more than 30 days of work in one year. In 2009, one employee was out 81 days. Ironically, a BPD spokesperson praised the staff, saying most employee excel under very stressful conditions. Elaine Driscoll said, “Like any organization that employs human beings, the potential for human error exists, which is the exact reason why we have a very strong management and supervisory structure in place.” A union spokesperson told a reporter that comm center management is part of the problem, with uneven staffing for some shifts. Read more about the situation here.