1988 case similar to Ka'Sandra Wade killing
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A woman's 911 call is disconnected. Pittsburgh police are dispatched to her home but leave without entering. A horrible crime occurs inside, and the caller becomes the victim.
This scenario could describe what happened to Ka'Sandra Wade, the Larimer woman found Jan. 1 shot to death in her home a day after police responded to her disconnected 911 call but left after talking only to a man.
Or it could describe a Point Breeze woman raped inside her home almost 25 years ago after six officers responding to her disconnected 911 call believed they found no evidence of a burglary in progress and left without going inside -- while the rapist was watching them through a window the whole time.
"Woman who dialed 911 is raped after police leave," read the headline on the front page of The Pittsburgh Press two days after the Feb. 2, 1988, incident.
A review led to changes in both police and 911 policy and resulted in reprimands for five police officers, including a lieutenant, and three 911 employees.
"My only point, and the only value of it to me, is to demonstrate that this indeed has happened before. They promised to change the policies. Where are they?" Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said last week. The review board is looking into the Wade situation.
Jan C. Swensen, the attorney who represented the 1988 victim and her husband in a lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh, said the two incidents seem similar.
"From what you're telling me it's a very similar situation in that the police don't seem to have a good system. The policies sound to me to be flawed. And I thought they were flawed in my case as well," Mr. Swensen said.
"The police officer came to the house, knocked on the door, had no response. It was a duplex. They asked the tenant of the other half of the building whether they were home and it was a school night, and they said, 'Well, it's a school night. They have children in school.' They could have looked in the garage and found the victim's car was in the garage, all kinds of evidence this was a hostage situation. They didn't do that. They went away."
Mr. Swensen and his client -- who declined to comment for this article -- settled with the city in 1991 for $137,500. Police never caught the rapist.
In the recent case Ms. Wade, 33, called 911 from a cell phone on Dec. 31 and asked for police to come to her home at 528 Lowell St. She was calm, but the phone went dead after an unidentified commotion.
Two Pittsburgh police officers went to her house. They spent 10 minutes on scene and left after speaking through a window with Anthony L. Brown, 51, her boyfriend.
Ms. Wade's body was found nearly 24 hours later inside the house, where she had been shot to death at least 12 hours before being discovered. Mr. Brown killed himself during a police standoff Jan. 2 but not before telling police he murdered Ms. Wade and suggested that officers could have done more to save her.
The incident is under internal investigation. It has not been revealed publicly what transpired between the officers and Mr. Brown. It is not known whether Ms. Wade was inside the house when the officers arrived. And there was reportedly no panic on her part or hint to the 911 call-taker that she was in imminent danger.
In the 1988 case, the Point Breeze resident called 911 and asked in an agitated voice for police after she heard someone trying to break into her second-story apartment while her husband was not home. A knife-wielding man accosted her and pulled the wires from the phone.
Officers were dispatched for a burglary in progress. They checked the exterior of the house and found a broken glass pane on a rear door but concluded a burglar could not have entered through there and left. The written reprimands for the officers indicate that the rapist did indeed enter through that door.
Meanwhile, the burglar was inside the house watching the officers and holding the woman at knife point. He threatened her three sleeping children if she did not keep quiet. After police departed he raped the woman twice before she stabbed him with a knife.
An internal investigation showed several missteps on the part of police and 911 personnel.
Workers at the 911 center gave officers incomplete information, according to the internal investigation's findings issued nine days after the rape. They did not tell police that the woman was inside the house, that she was the caller, and that her call ended abruptly.
Officers improperly evaluated the building's exterior to find the spot of the break-in, the city determined. Information gathered by various officers was not coordinated -- including reports that at least one officer saw a figure in an upstairs window -- and police did not seek additional information from 911 workers, the report said.
In the aftermath of the rape the city publicized five updates to police policies and procedures to "reduce the possibility of such errors being repeated."
According to the third policy change: The assigned police unit will contact the caller in every case in which the caller is known, unless the caller requests otherwise. If contact cannot be made, communications must be so notified prior to leaving the scene.
Glenn M. Cannon, who was Pittsburgh's public safety head and is now director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said the intent of that provision was to ensure that a 911 supervisor was notified if a police officer could not get in touch with the person who made an emergency call.
Pittsburgh police Chief Nate E. Harper said Tuesday that the department does not have any policies governing how officers should handle disconnected 911 calls and called it a "county issue."
The structure of the 911 center today, which is run by Allegheny County, is vastly different from the structure in 1988, when it was run by the city.
By every indication so far, the officers responding to Ms. Wade's home -- Lance P. Hoyson and Louis R. Schweitzer -- were given all pertinent information by 911.
Paul McComb, a retired Pittsburgh police sergeant who was one of two sex assault detectives assigned to the rape case, said with the limited information he has seen on the Wade situation he does not believe officers did anything wrong.
He added, however, that he hoped the current case would spur change.
"This is not new. Something has to be done," Mr. McComb said Monday.
"It did surprise me only because I know when this occurred [in 1988] with us there was deep concern especially from the officers that were there," Mr. McComb said. "The [police] bureau, I know they looked into it long and hard. I can't tell you what their decisions were. But everybody in my recollection felt horrible about that."
Louis G. DiNardo, who was deputy public safety director in 1988, said the incident with Ms. Wade stirred memories of the earlier case.
Mr. DiNardo said that he and his peers thought they had taken steps to address the problems in 1988 to ensure such a situation would not recur under the policies in place at the time.
"Across the board," Mr. DiNardo said. "Nine-one-one training, police issues, command issues, supervision issues. Absolutely I believe there was a definite proactive effort."
William T. Valenta was Mr. McComb's partner investigating the rape. He eventually rose to the rank of commander before retiring and said the 1988 case was one that stuck with him.
Mr. Valenta said that while the current situation and the 1988 case bear surface similarities, the details are very different. Perhaps the most salient and glaring difference in terms of affecting the police response, he said, was that Ms. Wade's call was made from a cell phone and was not quickly or easily verified as having come from her home. The internal probe in the current situation will review various policies and procedures to see if responding officers complied with them.
It remains to be seen whether police properly followed their protocols or whether the current protocols are not adequate, as was the case in 1988, according to an expert witness retained by the victim in her lawsuit.
"In effect," stated a 1991 report by expert witness Lee S. Weinberg, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, "no officer was in charge at the scene; no officer was responsible for collecting all information into a single report."
First Published January 16, 2013 12:00 am