Dispatchers criticized for not reporting car in slaying

September 30, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY


Deplorable. A misunderstanding. Unprofessional.

Those were a few of the words used Thursday to describe a situation earlier this month when 911 dispatchers did not immediately enter into a national crime database information about a car stolen from a double murder scene that likely was driven by the suspect.

Dispatchers did not enter the information into the database despite an order from Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith, which the county's attorney, Norwood Bentley, said was unacceptable.

"Whatever the sheriff says, ought to be done," Bentley said.

Too much is at stake for subordinate county employees to be making decisions they have no authority to make, Bentley said.


Entering information about the car into the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC as it is commonly called, would have ensured that if a police officer anywhere in the country pulled the car over - even for something as minor as a broken taillight - the officer would immediately have been informed the car was wanted in connection with a double murder.

From a liability standpoint, a failure to immediately enter the car into the database could have had disastrous consequences, Bentley said. An officer unknowingly approaching the car might have been shot and the county would have been held responsible, Bentley said.

The car, a Mazda MX-6, was found abandoned in Pikeside, W.Va., a day after a father and son were killed in their Paynes Ford Road home Sept. 14.

The man whom police allege killed Raymond White Jr., 64, and his son, Raymond White IV, 20, has been charged with two counts of murder.

More than an hour was spent during the Berkeley County Commission meeting Thursday discussing what happened Sept. 14.

References repeatedly were made to recordings of phone conversations between Smith and dispatchers, but the tapes were not played during the meeting.

Smith later played copies of the tapes for reporters in his office. The recordings last for about 17 minutes.

One of the tapes is of exchanges between Smith and county 911 dispatchers that took place over police radio frequencies. The other is of phone conversations between county dispatchers and dispatchers with the Martinsburg Police Department as they discussed whether they could enter the car into NCIC.

Because the 911 center's "teletype" system - the system used to enter information into NCIC - was not working, 911 employees had been relying on the Martinsburg Police Department to perform such duties that day, Central Dispatch/911 Director Mary Kackley said.

Kackley told the commissioners that dispatchers did not refuse to enter the information into NCIC, but simply could not because of the teletype problem.

Smith asked the car be entered into NCIC at 7:33 p.m. on Sept. 14.

Dispatchers with 911 and the Martinsburg Police Department did not enter the car because they all incorrectly believed that paperwork was needed beforehand.

"There was not a refusal on our part," Kackley told the commissioners. "Are we without blame? No we're not. There are certain things that need to be cleaned up."

She said NCIC guidelines allow a vehicle to be entered without paperwork, provided the car was involved in the commission of a felony. Kackley said she has since advised her employees of that provision.

The car was entered into NCIC without paperwork by a West Virginia State Police dispatcher. A 911 dispatcher was told the car was being entered into the system at 8:10 p.m., according to Kackley.

Smith said the State Police quickly agreed to enter the car into NCIC.

"The State Police entered it and didn't ask me a damn thing," Smith said after the meeting. "I didn't have to argue with them. They said yes and they did it."

Bentley said he was concerned about "some attitude obvious on the tapes," and that the urgency of the situation was not reflected.

He said conversations between dispatchers were frivolous and derogatory to the sheriff.

Some dialogue on the tapes is inaudible and the sound quality varies, but at one point a 911 dispatcher sounded as if she used a derogatory term in reference to the sheriff while speaking with a dispatcher in Martinsburg.

During Thursday's meeting, Commissioner Howard Strauss criticized the sheriff, saying he was disturbed that the sheriff waited for an hour at a recent County Commission meeting to bring the commissioners' attention to a newspaper story about the dispute. Strauss said the time could have been better spent investigating the homicide.

Strauss called that "deplorable."

Commissioner Ron Collins quickly and loudly responded that he found it deplorable that the sheriff's orders were not followed.

Smith said during the meeting that the issue was not about an equipment failure, but was "a people problem."

Dispatchers at the 911 center hindered and obstructed him "absolutely, positively, without a doubt," he said.

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