DALLAS (CN) – The family of a woman who was killed while on the phone with 911 operators sued Dallas over its bungled response to the call.
Vickie Cook sued the city on behalf of her grandchildren, in Federal Court. Her daughter, Deanna Cook, of Dallas, was choked to death on Aug. 17.
“Ms. Cook was screaming at the top of her lungs in fear, begging for assistance from the 911 call center,” the 29-page complaint states.
Cook claims says co-defendant Tonyita Hopkins, the city employee who took the call, could have immediately dispatched a police officer, but “deserted her post in violation of Dallas Police Department policy” and co-defendant Johnnye Wakefield, another employee, had to take the call.
“From the tone of Ms. Cook’s voice and statements that her life was in jeopardy, it was or should have been obvious to Tonyita Hopkins and Johnnye Wakefield that there was a physical disturbance in Ms. Cook’s home and that her life was being threatened,” the complaint states. “Despite that it was apparent Ms. Cook being threatened, attacked and was in fear of her life, it took nearly ten minutes to finally initiate a ‘dispatch’ request for officers to go to Ms. Cook’s southeast Dallas home.” Cook says the 911 call lasted 11 minutes and that at some point, Wakefield told Hopkins to disconnect the call and call Cook back, resulting in her voicemail picking up. She claims that they did not notify a police dispatch supervisor or follow up to ensure police dispatch had sent officers to the home.
And she claims co-defendant Yaminah Mitchell, the relief police dispatcher, failed to prioritize the call, but allowed officers to volunteer to respond to the call. She says the officers who did volunteer, co-defendants Julie Menchaca and Amy Wilburn, stopped en route to investigate a residential burglary alarm, then stopped at a 7-Eleven store and asked to be taken off the call.
Cook says that 50 minutes after the 911 call was placed, the officers finally arrived at her daughter’s home and “simply knocked on the door and had someone call Ms. Cook’s cellular phone. Not surprisingly, the call went to voicemail.”
“While at the residence, officers Menchaca and Wilburn were aware that Ms. Cook had previously reported claims of domestic violence and stalking,” the complaint states.
“Nevertheless, shortly before they arrived, officers Menchaca and Wilburn left, without performing any additional investigation of Ms. Cook’s whereabouts, her residence, or her 911 call.”
Two days later, Cook’s family found her dead in the bathtub.
Cook claims Dallas’ 911 system had several deficiencies: only 64 of 90 positions were filled, operators are overworked, and incorrect and incomplete information is passed to police officers in the field frequently.
The family’s attorney, Aubrey Pittman, called the bungled response a “comedy of errors” at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Pittman said he was “shocked as a citizen” that responding police stopped at the convenience store and did not use the lights and sirens on their vehicle in spite of the urgency of the call.
He also implied the location of Cook’s home in less-affluent south Dallas played a role.
“The Dallas Police Department would not have had a delay of 50 minutes in an affluent, north Dallas neighborhood,” Pittman said.
Valecia Battle, Cook’s sister, said, “It seems like more than a policy change needs to happen, it seems like a culture of arrogance … the police department determining whose lives are of value.”
The family seeks damages for negligence, wrongful death, and violations of the Fourteenth Amendment and due process.
- Discovery in Store for Florida’s Voter Purge