Tuesday, August 11, 2009

There is a God

911 operator in Lee murder case calls it quits


Aug 11, 2009 6:11 PM EDT

Aug 11, 2009 6:20 PM EDT

NORTH PORT: A 911 call made during the search for murder victim Denise Amber Lee in January 2008 cast a dark shadow on the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. Now nearly 19 months later, the operator who took the call that sparked an internal investigation is calling it quits.

"She asked for a transfer into a slightly less stressful position of a district clerk," Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Cameron said.

We obtained a copy of Mildred Stepp's one-sentence letter to her supervisor, Capt. Ronald Chandler, requesting the move. Cameron says her recent performance was under review.

"Just lately her supervisor has been working with her on some performance issues, and you can imagine it's been a stressful year for her," Cameron said.

Witness Jane Kowalski called 911, describing a man driving a dark Camaro down US-41 with someone screaming in the back seat. But the call center never dispatched a deputy.

Prosecutors say it was Lee and suspect Michael King in the car.

Husband Nate Lee has criticized the 911 call center, leading an effort to bring state legislation to streamline training for 911 operators.

"I think it's long overdue and I definitely think the citizens of Charlotte County are better off without her as a 911 operator," Lee said. "She was really the last person that had an opportunity to do something to save my wife."

The failed response led to suspensions and mandatory retraining by those involved with botching the call.

Kowalski's call is back in the public spotlight as part of the state's case against King.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Deno Economou ruled the 911 call could be played for jurors.

King's trial begins Monday with jury selection at the Sarasota County Courthouse.

Meanwhile, Stepp will still be taking calls as a clerk inside the district office at the Port Charlotte Town Center mall.

"Everybody sometime in there career needs a break," Cameron said. "I think that's Millie's asking for - a little break."