Friday, April 18, 2008

1998 murder caused 2008 lawsuit over 911 procedure

When a police officer knocked on her door in 1998 after her third 911 call, a woman couldn't yell out because her estranged boyfriend was lying on her and covering her mouth.

The officer left, and Deborah Kirk was strangled and beaten by the former boyfriend, Marvin Moss. The woman's mother, Phyllis May, says more should have been done to protect her daughter.

Testimony on May's wrongful death lawsuit against Franklin County, Ohio started Wednesday. Jurors must decide whether dispatchers and technicians trained under county Sheriff Jim Karnes were reckless when they did not give the officer details of what they heard in Kirk's three 911 calls.

May's attorneys played the calls in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. "Please send a cruiser," Kirk, 34, said in one call from her apartment near Columbus. "He's done whupped me. Please."

The first call from Kirk was a hang up call at 11:06 p.m. In a second call, about 20 minutes later, Kirk is heard screaming at Moss to leave her alone, followed by profanities from him and slapping noises. More yelling is heard on a third call.

Franklin Township police officer David Ratliff knocked on Kirk's apartment door at 11:37 p.m., but she wasn't able to answer because Moss was lying on top of her and covering her mouth with his hands.

A security guard with a master key was ready to open Kirk's door, but Ratliff decided to leave. Kirk's body was found a day later.

After hearing slapping sounds and Kirk's cries, dispatchers should have explained the situation's seriousness to Ratliff, May's attorneys said in court. "There was a system wide failure by the officers of the Franklin County sheriff's office," Craig Scott said.

Ratliff is expected to testify that, had he known what was heard on the 911 calls, he would have forced his way into the apartment, Scott said. Only the former boyfriend and a lack of effort by Ratliff are to blame for Kirk's death, an attorney defending the county said.

"Officer Ratliff made a cursory check of the scene in violation of his own department policies," Assistant County Prosecutor Tracie Boyd told jurors. "Sheriff Karnes has no burden in this case."

Moss, of Huntsville, Ala., confessed to killing Kirk and to quieting her when the officer came to the door. He hanged himself in his Franklin County jail cell in 1999.

Communications technician Marino Susi was given a 10-day suspension for not calling back Kirk to get more information. Franklin County has since increased its training on handling domestic violence calls, and the county now sends a car on all 911 calls. (info from Dayton Daily News)

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