Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Florida, 9-1-1, Jennifer Johnson, The Tampa Tribune

I just don't have words to describe my thoughts on yet another heart breaking story and of course, it's Florida. I hear the Senate is going to pass the bill! Thank goodness something positive is happening. 9-1-1 will get better!

God bless the Johnson family with peace and love. I imagine their hurt and anger are on par with our family's and Olidia Kerr Day's family. Please keep them in your prayers.

Dispatcher: Police Didn't Respond To 911 Call From Trunk

According to documents, Jennifer Johnson was suffocated by two plastic bags tied over her head: a garbage bag and a plastic bag from Party City, where she had purchased supplies for her daughter Je'Neiyce's birthday party.

By VALERIE KALFRIN The Tampa Tribune

Published: April 1, 2009

Updated: 06:50 pm

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Jennifer Johnson had about a minute to talk before a 911 operator in Plant City lost a connection with her.

"Ma'am, I'm in a trunk right now," the 31-year-old Tampa mother yelled on a copy of the call released today. "They got me in the trunk. … I don't know where I'm at."

Soon after the call disconnected, she was dead.

Prosecutors released the call along with 700 pages of discovery material that outlines the kidnapping and first-degree murder case against Vincent George Brown Jr., Johnson's on-again, off-again boyfriend and the father of her daughter, Je'Neiyce.

The material also contains a report that Plant City police corroborated today showing they never sent an officer to try to find Johnson.

This contradicts dispatch logs the department provided to News Channel 8 in December. At that time, the agency said the logs showed an officer had been sent to search a four-mile stretch of Interstate 4 in Thonotosassa, where a cell-phone tower had picked up Johnson's call.

Plant City police Capt. Darrell Wilson said today that an administrative review found that officer was working an unrelated security check in the area.

"There was never an officer dispatched," Wilson said. "That call log was for something different."

Police Chief Bill McDaniel's office said he was unavailable for comment today.

'I Guess We Shouldn't Have Assumed'

A Plant City communications operator recorded a 911 call with Johnson at 5:30 a.m. Nov. 15 that lasted about 1 minute 20 seconds. The conversation was so brief that Johnson did not provide a description of her car and could not say where she had been kidnapped, the documents say.

The operator had trouble hearing Johnson over loud music in the background. In addition, her cell phone number and wireless provider did not register when the call came in, making it difficult to map, Wilson and the discovery documents say.

The operator told her immediate supervisor and a patrol supervisor about the call after it disconnected, but neither listened to the call nor took any action, a report in the discovery documents says.

The log police provided in December showed an officer was dispatched at 5:38 a.m. that day along the interstate.

Today, Wilson said the department thought that officer had been sent to search for Johnson because of the agency's policy to send an officer to the last-known location of a disconnected 911 call.

"I guess we shouldn't have assumed," he said.

Johnson's phone did not have global-positioning system technology to help police pinpoint where she was. Her trunk did not have an internal release.

Activist Seeks 911 Reform

All cell phones should have GPS technology, said Nathan Lee, the president of a foundation named after his wife Denise Amber Lee.

"I got a GPS that can tell me where I'm going on the interstate," Nathan Lee said. "But we can't track down a cell phone? That's unbelievable."

Denise Amber Lee, 21, was abducted from her North Port home on Jan. 17, 2008. The daughter of a Charlotte County sheriff's sergeant, her disappearance touched off of a massive search by multiple agencies that ultimately failed to save her, but communications mistakes made on the night of her murder have spawned a broader movement to change the way emergency calls are handled in Florida and across the nation.

Nathan Lee is leading a push to ensure 911 dispatchers in Florida follow uniform regulations in handling emergency calls. Every agency's protocol is different, and dispatchers throughout the state have varying levels of training, Lee said.

A disparity in technology between 911 call centers is also an issue, he said. "The technology is there. Counties just can't get funding for it."

Although Johnson's signal couldn't be pinpointed, Lee said he finds it "very disturbing" that police said they sent units to find her when they really didn't.

Uniform standards for dispatchers—and technology—may have saved Johnson and his wife, Lee said.

"The foundation is going to get in touch with the Johnsons and offer our condolences," he said. "We want to let them know that progress is being made."

Johnson's family found her appeal for help heart-wrenching.

"It's devastating for me to hear," Rachel Johnson, the slain woman's sister, said of the 911 call. "She was reaching out for help, but no one was there to help her. I think about it every day, and there's nothing I can do."

Only Chance To Cry For Help

Johnson's aunt, Levery White, said even if the police were unable to find her, they should have tried.

"They didn't even send nobody. They didn't care," she said.

Relatives reported Johnson missing the evening of Nov. 15 after she did not show up for her daughter's birthday party.

Tampa police tracked her cell-phone activity through the phone company and on the morning of Nov. 18 discovered the 911 call had hit on a cell-phone tower at Interstate 4 and Thonotosassa Road.

Tampa police think the 911 call was the only opportunity Johnson had to communicate with authorities.
Johnson was found dead the evening of Nov. 18 in the garage of a vacant house in Lakeland, just south of Interstate 4 at the Kathleen Road exit. Her cell phone was tucked in her bra.

Phone records indicate that from about 8:15 a.m. Nov. 15 until the phone ran out of power, its signal pinged off a cell tower near the house where her body was found. She made no other calls.

Brown, 39, is accused of killing Johnson on Nov. 15, Je'Neiyce's 2nd birthday. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said detectives are investigating whether someone helped Brown. "There could be more arrests in the case," she said today.

Tribune reporter Ray Reyes and News Channel 8 reporters Krista Klaus and Samara Sodos contributed to this report. Reporter Valerie Kalfrin can be reached at (813) 259-7800