DA criticizes police for response to 911 call
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. discusses his review of the death of Ka'Sandra Wade at a news conference Friday.
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Two Pittsburgh police officers failed to follow their training by not being more aggressive in trying to speak with Ka'Sandra Wade in response to her disconnected 911 call on New Year's Eve, the night investigators believe she was shot to death by her boyfriend, the county's chief law enforcement officer said Friday.
"To a large extent the officers did not do what they are trained to do," Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said during a news conference. "You want to talk to the complainant. If you come to the door and you're not able to talk to the complainant, then what you should do is communicate with the supervisor."
Mr. Zappala said that while the officers' response was flawed, it was impossible to know whether they could have saved Ms. Wade had they acted differently.
"It's an isolated incident, and if any error was made, it's an error in judgment on the part of the officers," Pittsburgh police Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said Friday night. "It wasn't an intentional act. They just made an error in judgment as to what was a correct response to a given situation."
Officers Louis R. Schweitzer and Lance P. Hoyson never spoke with Ms. Wade when they responded to her Larimer home, and Mr. Zappala said he did not believe they saw her. They also did not consult with a supervisor.
The officers spoke only to Ms. Wade's boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, through a window. After a conversation that the district attorney said lasted only seconds, Mr. Brown refused to let them in, snapped the curtains shut and retreated inside.
Mr. Zappala said it was impossible to know whether Ms. Wade was still alive at that time. No one in the neighborhood reported hearing gunshots. But the woman who lived in the upstairs apartment returned home at 11:45 p.m. -- 44 minutes after officers left the premises -- and did not report hearing any gunfire or commotion for the rest of the night.
"Could they have made a more aggressive attempt to get the man's attention at the door by pounding at the door? Could a supervisor have been notified for guidance? Those are the two main issues to be addressed," Deputy Chief Donaldson said.
Before Mr. Brown, 51, killed himself in his Homewood apartment early Jan. 2 during a standoff with SWAT officers, he left three notes, two of which referenced the death of Ms. Wade, 33.
"I did not mean to kill her. I lost it. I cannot live with it. An eye for an eye. If I don't [kill myself] the police will," one note said. "They had a chance to save her and they didn't do it last night. They came and left. I did it right before midnight. May God have mercy on me. I already know he won't."
Deputy Chief Donaldson characterized Mr. Brown's note as a potentially "self-serving statement" and noted that even the county medical examiner could not pinpoint an exact time of death.
"That is one thing we're certainly going to stress -- in no way are we trying to place blame for the death of this woman on the officers," Deputy Chief Donaldson said.
Mr. Zappala said he did not think the information that officers had at the scene would have amounted to "exigent" circumstances that would have allowed them to make a warrantless entry and not run afoul of Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure.
"I don't think a judicial officer would issue a warrant. We are not a Nazi state. It is not OK to just kick doors down," Mr. Zappala said.
But if officers had been able to determine that Mr. Brown had a weapon, that would have provided the cause necessary for them to burst in, he said.
Mr. Zappala is not pursuing any criminal charges against the officers. However, he met Friday morning with various authorities to discuss enacting new standards among police departments for responding to domestic violence calls.
The deputy chief said there is pending internal "action to address the incident" which could take the form of additional training, counseling for the officers or discipline, or some combination of the three.
"There is going to be some action taken," Deputy Chief Donaldson said. "It should be coming shortly. There will be official action stemming from this incident."
On the evening of her death, Ms. Wade and Mr. Brown, an on-again, off-again couple of 10 years who were living at her Larimer home, planned to have dinner together, according to Mr. Zappala. Their 10-year-old son, Zaire, was with his grandmother in Aliquippa. Ms. Wade went shopping at Giant Eagle around 5 p.m., the last time anyone reported seeing her.
Although it seemed as if the couple were set to have a romantic evening, Mr. Zappala said, things turned violent, possibly because of Mr. Brown's fears that Ms. Wade was carrying on with another man and the relationship would interfere with his ability to see Zaire.
At 10:38 p.m., Ms. Wade called 911 from one of her two cell phones. In the 28-second conversation, Ms. Wade managed only to ask for "someone" to come to her home in Larimer before there was a muffled sound followed by the line being disconnected.
Investigators believe that at that moment Mr. Brown caught Ms. Wade secretly trying to call for help and ripped the phone from her, Mr. Zappala said.
At some point Ms. Wade hid a second cell phone and a key in her brassiere.
"She had an exit plan," Mr. Zappala said.
At 10:43 p.m., Officer Schweitzer was dispatched for an "unknown trouble" call. Officer Hoyson, who responded as backup, arrived at the house first at 10:48 p.m., three minutes before his colleague.
Mr. Zappala said he was not privy to what officers told Pittsburgh homicide detectives about their conversation with Mr. Brown. Police have not furnished Mr. Zappala with a copy of the interviews. But the district attorney described the encounter as short.
Mr. Brown said "everything was fine," according to a 911 record, didn't answer any other questions and refused to let officers inside.
"When Brown came to the window, he did not show the officers his hands nor was he asked to show his hands," Mr. Zappala said.
The room in which Mr. Brown was standing while he spoke through the window with officers is the room where Ms. Wade was killed, Mr. Zappala said.
The officers left at 11:01 p.m. Ms. Wade's body was discovered less than 24 hours later after her worried relatives contacted police.
Training calls for a Pittsburgh police officer in such a situation to confer with a supervisor, Mr. Zappala said.
"The supervisor gives advice. That's typically how you do business in this regard," he said.
Mr. Zappala identified Charles Henderson, a 19-year veteran, as the supervisor who was working at that time in Zone 5. Sgt. Henderson could not be reached for comment.
According to 911 logs provided by Mr. Zappala, it appears that there was an attempt made to dispatch Zone 5 Sgt. Michael Pilyih at 10:47 p.m. However, Mr. Zappala said the sergeant was relieved early by Sgt. Henderson. He said he did not know why the change occurred early or why Sgt. Henderson did not respond in the other supervisor's stead.
Deputy Chief Donaldson said the notation on the 911 log to a sergeant being dispatched was erroneous. He would not say whether Sgt. Henderson should have been proactive in monitoring the call and responding on his own initiative.
Bryan Campbell, attorney for the police officers' union, the Fraternal Order of Police, declined comment on Friday's news conference.
Mr. Zappala suggested that the county modify 911 protocols so call-takers ask earlier whether a weapon is involved.
"That's an issue that's on the table," Mr. Zappala said. "If a weapon is in play, you take that door down."
First Published January 19, 2013 12:00 am