Monday, September 8, 2008

911 call delay may have led to murder

On June 24, the night Beatriz "Betty" Orozco was killed, someone in her Oceanside, California house called 911. But the caller hung up. And the 911 dispatcher didn't call back to investigate. After police responded to a second 911 call 20 minutes later, they found the young mother dead inside her blood-covered kitchen.

The failed response to the first 911 call was a mistake, police Sgt. Kelan Poorman said last week. The department's procedure requires dispatchers to call back when they get a hang up on a 911 call. And if there is no response, officers are supposed to be sent to the scene.

Could a response have saved Orozco, 24, from what police say may have been a jealousy-fueled attack at the hands of her husband? "We don't know," Poorman said. The dispatcher "doesn't know why" she didn't return the call, Poorman said.

Poorman, the department's spokesman, said he cannot yet share the results of an internal investigation into the incident. But he said one thing was clear: The investigation shows that in all other cases, dispatchers have correctly responded to 911 calls, including those in which the caller hangs up.

"I think they (the public) should still have confidence in the Police Department," Poorman said. "It was an isolated incident." This sort of failure to respond to a 911 hang up, he said, is simply not supposed to happen. Although he declined to release the name of the dispatcher, Poorman said she has been on the job for 21 years.

Now, the veteran employee, one of at least four dispatchers who were working the morning the call came in, faces discipline that could range from an official reprimand to losing her job.

When police arrived at the home, Beatriz Orozco was dead, allegedly at the hands of her husband, Jose Luis Orozco. He lay bleeding beside her, from what police say were self-inflicted knife wounds. In between them on the kitchen floor, police found the couple's 3-year-old child, physically unharmed.

It is not clear who placed the first 911 call, which came from inside the home. The call was already disconnected when the dispatcher answered the phone, Poorman said.

The second distress call, the one that police responded to, was made from the cellphone of a man authorities have identified as the victim's boyfriend. The man was outside the home when he apparently saw Beatriz Orozco trying to escape out of a closed second-story bedroom window as she fended off the knife-wielding suspect.

The boyfriend jumped on the roof to try to break the window and stop the assault on his married girlfriend, who reportedly had just confirmed the affair to her husband and announced her intention to leave him. When the boyfriend could not get inside the home, he used his cellphone to call 911. The time was 1:09 a.m. Within two minutes, call logs indicate, police units were dispatched.

Police got to the home and spotted the carnage when they peered through a sliding glass backdoor and broke in. There was blood in almost every room in the home.

A supervisor uncovered the mistake during the routine audit that follows a critical incident such as a homicide, Poorman said. Officials have ordered the department's 18 dispatchers to receive a refresher course on how to respond to 911 hang ups.

It remains to be seen what effect the human error will have on the murder case facing Jose Orozco. He faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted of using a knife to commit first-degree murder.(info from North County Times)

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