Pittsburgh police response to 911 call is analyzed after woman is slain
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When Ka'Sandra Wade called 911 from her cell phone late Dec. 31, she identified herself by name and told an Allegheny County call-taker to send police to her Larimer home, according to a law enforcement source.
Authorities investigating why Pittsburgh police officers who arrived at 528 Lowell St. left without entering the dwelling after speaking only to a man -- a man who later confessed to killing Ms. Wade -- provided no details Monday about the chain of events leading up to her homicide.
But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has pieced together through interviews and records a timeline of events, details about the murder-suicide and information about the 911 call at the heart of an internal police investigation.
When Pittsburgh police were dispatched to Ms. Wade's house, the call was described as "unknown trouble" and assigned a "P2" priority -- the same priority given to dozens of other calls including purse snatchings, lockouts and open-door complaints.
Zone 5 Officers Louis R. Schweitzer and Lance P. Hoyson were each armed with five years of Pittsburgh police experience and with certain information, according to audio of the police radio from that night and a review of 911 dispatch records obtained by the Post-Gazette.
The officers, who arrived in separate vehicles, knew the caller was female. They knew the woman was calm at first. They were told that there was some sort of commotion. And they knew the line had been disconnected.
But when they arrived on Lowell Street around 10:51 p.m. -- about 22 hours before Ms. Wade, 33, would be found shot to death in her home -- they were stymied.
They spoke through a window with a man later identified as Anthony L. Brown, 51, Ms. Wade's boyfriend, who eventually would confess to killing her.
Police would not provide details of the conversation between the officers and Mr. Brown, a part-time clerk for the state Liquor Control Board and a maintenance man at the North Point Breeze apartment building where he lived and where he later took his own life during a standoff with SWAT officers.
Mr. Brown did not let the officers inside Ms. Wade's residence in the multiunit house. The police left 10 minutes after they arrived. It was not until about 8 p.m. the following evening, when Ms. Wade's worried relatives contacted police, that she was found dead.
County medical examiner Karl Williams said it was scientifically impossible to pinpoint the exact time of Ms. Wade's death -- whether it occurred around the time police responded or long after.
Dr. Williams said Monday it was likely that Ms. Wade was killed at least 12 hours before her body was found.
But during the SWAT standoff at Mr. Brown's basement apartment at 208 N. Homewood Ave., he confessed that he killed Ms. Wade and made a startling allegation -- that officers might have been able to save her.
It is being explored whether that reference was to the 911 call.
That information was contained in a note Mr. Brown tossed to police during the only time he cracked his door during the standoff. Mr. Brown killed himself early Wednesday.
By Thursday, police investigating the deaths of Ms. Wade and Mr. Brown were also inquiring about the 911 call. Homicide detectives interviewed the officers, who asked Bryan Campbell, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, to be present while they spoke with investigators.
Mr. Campbell declined to discuss specifics of the interviews.
"They do it all the time when internal investigations are being done," Mr. Campbell said. "That's not uncommon."
Mr. Campbell said he was not present at interviews with any other officers in connection with the 911 call, if any were conducted. A Zone 5 sergeant, Michael Pilyih, who worked that night, was released from headquarters when it was learned that he was not on duty at the time of the call.
Police spokeswoman Diane Richard would not say whether other officers were interviewed. She also has not said which police supervisors were working at the time in Zone 5.
On Monday, county District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. announced that his office was probing the matter.
Separately, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said a preliminary review "indicates that all policies and procedures were followed" at the 911 center.
Others, however, raised questions about standing police procedures for handling disconnected 911 calls.
City Councilman Bill Peduto said he believes police procedure should dictate that officers responding to a call speak directly to the person who dialed 911.
"Policy for a domestic [violence call] should always require the officer talking to the person who made the call to make sure that the person is safe," Mr. Peduto said. "If the incident is not known to be a domestic, it should still follow that same policy or procedure where the person who made the call is known to be safe."
A nationally known expert in police protocol said the officers should have been more suspicious of the man when he turned them away.
"Whenever there is a 911 hang-up, there's some reason that happened. Maybe it's innocuous, but it has to be checked," said Michael D. Lyman, a professor of criminal justice at Columbia College in Missouri.
"If the police knew that a female placed the 911 call, when they arrived and a male answered the door, they should have been concerned. They should have said they needed to speak with the individual who made the call. ... When the man didn't want to open the door, that should have been a red flag," said Mr. Lyman, who was a criminal investigator for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and a senior agent with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.
"A reasonable officer would have been concerned that the male at the window talking through a window and not being willing to open a door and respond -- well, I think that would be very suspicious," Mr. Lyman said.
A key component of the investigation will be to determine what exactly the officers did, what they should have done, whether supervisors were involved in decision-making and whether county personnel followed proper procedures.
Whether Officers Hoyson and Schweitzer should have done something differently is no easy question to answer. There are constitutional legal issues at play. Did the officers, based on what they knew, have the ability to enter the house without permission? Did they have reason to believe that they should?
By all accounts, Ms. Wade was not hysterical on the phone with 911. In fact, sources said, she was calm. She did not specify why she wanted police. She called from a cell phone instead of a land line, preventing officers from being positive that the call originated from within the house without seeking additional tracking information that might have required a warrant.
When Officers Hoyson and Schweitzer arrived at Ms. Wade's three-story brick house, they would have gone up seven steps to a small porch with one front door and two mailboxes -- one labeled Wade/Brown and the other listing another tenant as of Monday evening.
It has not been divulged what Mr. Brown's demeanor was like when he spoke with the officers or what specifically he said to them.
Officers at one point did ask the 911 center to call Ms. Wade back -- a common tactic so police can try to hear whether a phone is ringing inside. In this case, the call went to voice mail, records show, and no ringing was heard by the officers from outside, according to a source.
The officers left at 11:01 p.m., 10 minutes after the first one arrived. On the dispatch logs, the call is closed out with the entry, "Male came to the window and said everything was fine and didn't answer any questions."
Christopher Slobogin, a Vanderbilt Law School professor and expert on the Fourth Amendment right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure, said such cases are highly fact-specific.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 2006 decision that "if police have reason to believe there's an emergency situation involving a threat to life, they can enter a house without a warrant," Mr. Slobogin said. He noted that the standard for a warrantless search -- "an objectively reasonable basis" -- is a lower legal threshold to meet than probable cause, which is required to obtain a search or arrest warrant.
The determination of what constitutes an emergency boils down to "what a reasonable officer would believe based on the facts," he added.
Ms. Downs, the county spokeswoman, turned down a request to review a recording of Ms. Wade's call or provide a transcript. She said the county was abiding by the state Right-to-Know Law, which does not mandate release of such information. However, she acknowledged that the law does not bar the county from releasing the tape.
Ms. Downs did provide some information about how calls prioritized "P2" like the one made by Ms. Wade are handled. The "P2" classification requires an "urgent" dispatch and refers to "events that have just occurred and actor(s) not on-scene or where actor(s) are not known if still present at scene."
On an "unknown trouble" call, the call-taker is supposed to advise the 911 center shift commander. Directions to the call-taker are: "Enter as much information as could be obtained. State all pertinent details you were able to determine, such as sex/age/race of caller, odd background noise, partial quotes of what caller said, phone went dead or was grabbed away, etc. (i.e., person screaming etc.)."
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said her group will review the incident to determine if officers should have done more or whether police procedures need to be changed.
"If there's a well-being call and then you have somebody resistant, you better get in there and find out what's going on," Ms. Pittinger said. "And if you get sued, you get sued."
Here is a timeline of the deaths of Ka'Sandra Wade and Anthony L. Brown over the New Year's holiday.
Dec. 31, sometime after 5 p.m. -- Ms. Wade's mother, Sharon Jordan, and son phone to wish her a happy new year
Dec. 31, about 10:38 p.m. Ms. Wade calls 911 from a cell phone, gives her name and address and asks the call-taker to send police.
Dec. 31, 10:43 p.m. Officers Louis R. Schweitzer and Lance P. Hoyson from the Zone 5 station in Highland Park are dispatched to Ms. Wade's residence at 528 Lowell St. in Larimer.
Dec. 31, 10:51 p.m. The first officer arrives at the multi-unit home.
Dec. 31, 11:01 p.m. The officers leave the scene after speaking with Ms. Wade's boyfriend, 51-year-old Anthony L. Brown.
Jan. 1, between 7 and 8 p.m. Ms. Jordan contacts police and says she has been unable to reach her daughter. Police go to Lowell Street and find Ms. Wade's body. She is pronounced dead of a gunshot wound at 8:32 p.m.
Jan. 1, shortly after 11 p.m. Police go to Mr. Brown's apartment at 208 N. Homewood Ave. in North Point Breeze, and a five-hour standoff ensues.
Jan. 2, before dawn Mr. Brown shoots himself in the head and is pronounced dead at 4:47 a.m.