Relatives of slain woman sue over Denver 911 delay

AP News
Posted: Nov 17, 2014 11:53 PM

DENVER (AP) — A Denver woman who was found fatally beaten more than six hours after a neighbor first called 911 for help might have survived if dispatchers had sent police sooner, her family said in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that cites "a pattern of inadequate 911 dispatching."

It took more than an hour for dispatchers to send officers to the home of Loretta Barela, 44, after her neighbor called 911 on Nov. 18, 2012. The neighbor, who told dispatchers she saw a man hitting shirtless Barela and dragging her across the street, called a second time when police had not arrived 45 minutes later. Officers left when there was no response to a knock on her door.

Police found Barela's body after her husband called 911 to say he had killed her. Christopher Perea was later convicted of her murder.

Dispatchers ignored the urgency of the neighbor's calls reporting a life-threatening emergency, according to the lawsuit, which names the city of Denver, four 911 employees and two officers. It says dispatchers repeatedly reset a timer, which delayed sending officers to the scene.

At least one dispatcher resigned pending further discipline in the case, which was among several recent problems at the 911 center.

In April 2012, a 911 caller reporting a threatening situation was told Denver police wouldn't take a report unless he returned to city limits. He returned to Denver and was killed within blocks of the earlier incident.

And this April, Denver police officials blamed their delayed response to a woman who was killed more than 12 minutes into a 911 call on a dispatcher who failed to relay information to officers about the gravity of the situation. Kristine Kirk frantically called 911 saying her husband was hallucinating after eating marijuana-infused candy and was getting a gun from a safe.

The suit says the cases show "a widespread custom or policy of failing to identify and/or prioritize situations involving imminent danger or a life threatening emergency."

City Attorney Scott Martinez said late Monday he had not seen the lawsuit and he could not comment.

Officials made several changes to their response policies after Kirk's killing, including requiring dispatchers to give certain calls, such as those involving weapons, the highest priority. The new rules also give officers more authority to decide how to respond to calls in which a person is in imminent danger.

The lawsuit involving Barela also says the officers, who knocked on the door and shone lights in the house, failed to thoroughly investigate before leaving 18 minutes after they arrived.