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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Widow of Slain Deputy Blames County, Motorola

(CN) - The widow of a murdered police officer claims in court that a Florida county's dispatchers failed to warn her husband that he was walking into a life-threatening situation.

In a wrongful death suit filed in Leon County, Fla., Erika Smith says a significant amount of the blame for her husband's death while on duty must also be shared by Motorola Solutions Inc., which she says sold a dispatch system to the county that was rife with operational issues.

Smith says that on the morning of Nov. 22, 2014, Her husband, Leon County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Smith, and another deputy responded to an emergency call about a house fire at the home of Curtis Holley of Tallahassee.

Holley was known to law enforcement as a dangerous individual who had recently made threats "to shoot any law enforcement" officers who showed up at his house.

According to the complaint, the county's Computer Aided Dispatch system flagged the address as an "Officer Safety Premises Hazard" earlier in the month.

But the CAD dispatcher did not inform the deputies of the warning, the suit states. Two other dispatchers also failed to warn them. As Deputy Smith approached the house, Holley ambushed, shot and killed him.

An off-duty police officer who happened to live across the street responded to the sound of gunshots and killed Holley in a shoot-out. Dispatch agency employees did not see the premises hazard warning for another 20 minutes.

In addition to his wife, Officer Smith also left behind a young daughter.

Smith claims the CAD system purchased by the county has fatal flaws that Motorola has failed to correct. According to the suit, an audit conducted after the shooting found warnings were not checked by call takers and dispatchers 98 percent of the time.

A grand jury convened after three high profile shootings in Leon County, including the one involving Deputy Smith's murder, criticized the Tallahassee-Leon County Consolidated Dispatch Agency for several failures.

"We find that the CDA failed to convey critical officer safety information to the first responders," the grand jury's report stated. "Had this information been relayed, the first responders would have addressed the call very differently and the life of Deputy Smith would likely have been spared."

Last month, the agency's director resigned.

The Tallahassee-Leon County Consolidated Dispatch Agency did not return a call for comment from Courthouse News.

Smith claims Motorola marketed the most recent CAD system as an update instead of an entirely new system, allowing the company to "circumvent the legally required competitive bidding process under Florida law" and the possible implementation of another company's superior software.

She reasons that if the agency knew there was a largely new system, it would have required its dispatchers to have more training in its use.

The complaint also blames the company for not putting in certain safeguards to disallow a dispatcher to send off emergency personnel until those warnings are seen and communicated.

"Motorola designed the CAD system to focus on getting first responders to the right location as quickly as possible," the complaint states. "Motorola's focus on efficiency rather than safety, placed all first responders, including Deputy Smith, in danger."

In a statement, Motorola spokesman Eric Torbenson said, "Anytime a first responder makes the ultimate sacrifice to protect our communities is a tragedy, and we extend our sympathy to the family of Deputy Smith. Motorola Solutions believes that its PremierOne computer-aided dispatch system used by the CDA worked as designed during this incident."

Erika Smith is represented by Matthew Foster Brooks, LeBouef, Bennett, Foster and Gwartney in Tallahassee, Fla.

Foster did not return a call for comment from Courthouse News.

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