Monday, September 28, 2009

And this on SNN 6 on Friday by Jackie Barron

Somehow I missed this about Denise

For Emergency Use Only

By Laura Sperling

Published: Friday, September 25, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 6:40 p.m.

When I called 9-1-1 the other night, my heart was galumphing like an off-kilter washing machine.

I wasn't dying. I was simply freaking out.

I had been driving the inside lane down a dark, crowded, rain-slicked U.S. 41. As the clot of cars and trucks headed south near Sarasota Memorial Hospital, the air suddenly ripped with the odd but unmistakable blast of a wailing locomotive -- so close-range that I thought impact was imminent.

The left half of my brain knew there are no train tracks anywhere near the hospital. The right half was screaming, "SWERVE OR YOU'RE GONNA DIE!" Somehow I didn't do either. Instead, I froze until I realized that the noise from hell was emanating from an adjacent pickup truck.

Apparently the driver was having a little "fun" with his train horn -- an add-on car accessory that seems to have no purpose other than to explode eardrums. One Web site that sells the horns warns that they can "ruin your hearing if you happen to be too close to them when they blow."

I'm reasonably certain that this level of noise violates a state statute, and I'm absolutely sure it can scare the daylights out of anyone who unexpectedly hears it from a few feet away, as I did. It could even trigger a bad accident.

As the panic subsided, I heard laughter, which made me want to tear the horn off that truck and twist it around the driver's neck. But he kept moving south and I turned toward home. On a side street I pulled over, dug out my cell phone and -- heart racing -- dialed 9-1-1.

On second thought ...

"What is the nature of your emergency?" the operator asked.

It was an unexpectedly tough question. Illegal and potentially destructive though the horn blast was, nobody was hurt. So did this really amount to a 9-1-1 "emergency"?

The operator didn't think so, I sensed. She was polite but unfamiliar with train horns. When I tried to describe one, she seemed more interested in getting my name down.

The knowledge that everything I said was being taped made me feel sheepish -- and a bit irrational. What if the hooligan tracked me down and blasted his horn in my driveway at 4 a.m.? My elderly neighbor might have a heart attack. Heck, I might. That would be 9-1-1 worthy, but I'd rather not go through it.

By the time the call ended, the truck/locomotive was long gone and I was perplexed. When I got home, I looked up state law on car horns. Florida Statute 316.271 bans "unreasonably loud or harsh sound," but it's only penalized as a moving violation, not a crime.

It's easy -- maybe too easy

I now realize I should have called a non-emergency line of the Sarasota Police Department. But I don't know that number and, on the road, 9-1-1 is so much easier to remember.

Indeed, it may be too easy. According to a recently released report sponsored by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, nonemergency contacts make up an estimated half of all calls to Florida 9-1-1 centers.

Some calls are just idiotic, like the ones from goofballs complaining about a disappointing fast-food meal.

But even people who should know better sometimes make questionable use of 9-1-1. As you may have read in the Herald-Tribune last week, an off-duty Longboat Key police officer dialed the emergency line to complain about cars on her Sarasota street. The traffic apparently was due to parents waiting to pick up their children at a nearby school.

The story took a darker twist when parents then called 9-1-1 on the officer, who was accused of aggravated assault in a conflict with one of the mothers.

The three threads that run through these examples -- mine included -- are frustration, easily accessible cell phones, and a mind-set that 9-1-1 is the best way to seek help. I doubt any of us were thinking about the collective impact on the emergency communications system.

Experts say a high volume of nonemergency calls can distract 9-1-1 staff and contribute to the kind of chaos seen -- to devastating effect -- in the Denise Lee case.

Lee, a North Port mom, was kidnapped and killed despite urgent 9-1-1 calls from her and witnesses. The information was relayed to Charlotte County dispatchers, but they failed -- for several reasons, including distractions and communication breakdowns -- to pass it on to deputies who might have been able to save Lee.

That outcome is too sad for words. I think of Lee often, but -- judging by my misguided 9-1-1 call -- not often enough.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Judge Allows Sheriff to Hold Back Full Report in Lee Lawsuit


Published: September 25, 2009

PUNTA GORDA - Nate Lee has to wait a little longer for answers about the mishandling of a 911 call in the January 2008 death of his wife, Denise.

This morning Charlotte Judge James Shenko granted a motion to dismiss a request by Lee for an unedited copy of the internal investigation into the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office 911 Center.

Judge Shenko cited a technicality when Lee's former attorney failed to file some paperwork on time as the reason he won't grant Lee's current request for discovery.

He recommended instead that Lee immediately file his lawsuit then come back to the issue.

The sheriff's office has admitted it messed up when dispatchers failed to alert deputies about a call from Tampa resident Jane Kowalski, a few hours after Michael King had kidnapped Denise Lee from her North Port home.

Charlotte 911 operator Mildred Stepp hand wrote the information instead of entering it into her computer. Stepp then yelled the details of the call to a pair of supervisors nearby.

Kowalski reported seeing a person in distress in the back of a car matching the description of King's Camaro detailed in a "be on the lookout" bulletin already sent to the sheriff's office.

Detectives now believe Kowalski was the last person to see Denise Lee alive. About a half-dozen deputies posted along Toledo Blade Boulevard between U.S. 41 and Interstate 75 never knew about Kowalski's call. Before King reached the interstate he pulled off, shot Lee in the head and then buried her in a 4-foot grave.

The sheriff's office launched an internal investigation after Kowalski called North Port police to ask why no one had followed up with her. Charlotte gave two employees minor reprimands. Stepp kept her job.

Today the sheriff's office argued about protecting a 911 caller's identity as one of the reasons for blacking out big chunks of the internal report. But Kowalski has spoken out several times on local and national television. A sheriff's office attorney also cited appeals in an ongoing criminal case.

A Sarasota jury recently convicted King and recommended he receive the death penalty for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Denise Lee. After erroneously calling Denise Lee by her middle name, Amber, attorney Bruce Jolly called Nate Lee's request for a clean copy of the report a "fishing expedition."

Lee's attorney, Patrick Boyle, pointed out the sheriff's office inconsistent behavior when it comes to the stack of public records. While Lee's copy of the internal report has large swaths of black marker blocking information, a copy given to a producer for NBC's "Dateline" show does not.

Boyle said the "Dateline" copy reveals a statement from a sergeant where he admits "standard procedure would have been to stay with the caller until a unit arrived on scene."

That didn't happen with Kowalski.

"We are in the untenable position of knowing negligence was involved but now knowing how," Boyle said to Judge Shenko. "Every piece of information and every scrap of paper is what we desire.
"Almost two years later we still don't have those documents."

Boyle wrapped up by saying, "There is nobody in this courthouse, nobody in this town, nobody in this state and probably half the people in this country that would argue there isn't a good faith basis for a lawsuit."

Judge Shenko then instructed Boyle to file the suit and fight again for the records. The sheriff's office captain responsible for redacting or removing much of Lee's copy of the internal report offered a small smile on the opposite side of the courtroom.

Lee left frustrated yet determined to find the answers he says his wife and two young sons deserve from Charlotte's public servants.

Reporter Jackie Barron can be reached at (813) 221-570

North Port Sun

Judge denies Lee's request for complete 911 report

North Port Community News Editor

PUNTA GORDA -- A judge ruled Friday against Nathan Lee's request to get a "clean copy" of the 2008 Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs report explaining the breakdown in communication between 911 call takers on the night his wife, Denise Amber Lee, was murdered.

Lee says he needs the report for a wrongful death lawsuit he intends to file against the Sheriff's Office.

Based on a technicality, 20th Circuit Judge James Shenko ruled that Lee's attorney's request for the unredacted Internal Affairs report -- with nothing crossed out -- was premature because it came before the end of the six-month waiting period legally required before filing a lawsuit. Had the request been filed in court after the Sept. 12 deadline, the judge would have ruled on the merits of both sides' arguments.

However, Lee's attorney, Patrick Boyle, argued that more than a year ago, the CCSO provided a reporter with the TV show "Dateline NBC" a less redacted copy of the report than the one Nathan was given after he announced his intention to sue.

"Dateline" paid more than $125 for a copy of the report after it was completed.

Nathan Lee retained an attorney last year and announced he was going to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the CCSO. However, the attorney failed to file the proper paperwork with the state on Lee's intention. Lee said he fired that attorney and had Boyle refile the documents.

Lee claims his wife, Denise, 21, could have been saved if law enforcement officials -- who were on a massive manhunt for her since about 4:30 p.m. Jan 17, 2008 -- would have known about the 911 call made by witness Jane Kowalski at 6:42 p.m. that same day. The call was never dispatched to officers.

Kowalski told a dispatcher she saw a person screaming and slapping a window in the Camaro driving next to her on U.S. 41. The car turned left onto Toledo Blade Boulevard and Kowalski was unable to follow. Denise's body was found buried off Toledo Blade two days later.

According to the IA report, a deputy should have met with Kowalski, who pulled into the Toys R Us parking lot in Port Charlotte during her nine-minute call. She even asked if there was a "be on the lookout" for anyone in the area.

Michael King -- the driver of the Camaro -- was found guilty in Denise's kidnapping, rape and murder in August. Jurors unanimously recommended the death penalty for King earlier this month. A judge will decide his sentence in October.

In court, Boyle said the IA report, which is a public document, included the names and specific information about "who did what wrong." However, more than 50 percent of the report provided to Nathan was redacted.

Boyle said the exact report given to "Dateline" is only slightly redacted. He said the report should only have small sections redacted, such as the 911 caller's personal information; instead, all of Kowalski's call and all other pertinent information from the call takers is blacked out.

The CCSO's Fort Lauderdale attorney, Bruce Jolly, told the judge it wasn't relevant that the document was a public record because Lee did not make a public record's request for it.

Jolly said in his 35 years as an attorney, he has only seen two requests for "pure discovery" -- completely unredacted documents -- before a lawsuit is filed.

"Who does this?" he asked the judge. "You don't need this to file. If you believe facts are arguably sufficient that this was neglectfully handled, than that's enough to get through the courthouse door."

Read more on this story in Saturday's Sun.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saved for posterity. Charlotte County CCSO grasping at straws IMO

What a crock of you know what! What are they trying to do by saying Nathan has "unclean hands"? What the hell does that mean?

CCSO, county, Lee has 'unclean hands' in lawsuit

Widower of murder victim still plans to file wrongful death suit

Nathan Lee said he wanted to wait until after the Michael King murder trial to seek damages against the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office for not helping to save the life of his 21-year-old wife, Denise Amber Lee, on Jan. 17, 2008, after she was abducted.

On Aug. 28, King was found guilty in Denise's kidnapping, rape and murder. On Sept. 4, jurors unanimously recommended the death penalty for King. A judge ultimately will decide his fate in October.

Nathan originally hired a law firm to file a wrongful death suit against the CCSO and Charlotte County, but the necessary paperwork was not filed with the state in a timely manner. Now, in recently filed court documents, county attorneys claim Nathan has "unclean hands" in not following procedures.

Nathan claims there were numerous procedural breakdowns at the CCSO and "severe incompetence" in the way the 911 call was handled on the night Denise was murdered.

County attorneys are asking a judge to block Nathan's request for an unredacted copy of a Sheriff's Office internal affairs investigation into the handling of that call.

The CCSO launched the internal affairs investigation several days after learning that Tampa resident Jane Kowalski called 911 to report she was at a traffic light on U.S. 41 and could hear someone banging on a window and screaming from the back of a Camaro, as she was leaving North Port and entering Charlotte County. Kowalski told the 911 dispatcher that the Camaro, driven by King, made a left turn on Toledo Blade Boulevard. Denise's body was found buried in a wooded area off Toledo Blade two days later.

However, none of Kowalski's information was sent over the airwaves or relayed to the North Port Police Department, which had launched a massive manhunt for Denise earlier that afternoon. Two call center workers received suspensions and additional training as a result of their actions that night.

Nathan said several law enforcement officers were in the area where King drove on the night he murdered Denise. Had law enforcement officers been given the information when Kowalski reported it, Denise may have been saved, he said.

North Port police learned about Kowalski only after she called the department explaining what she had seen two days earlier. She questioned why her information was not shared with North Port.

Nathan's original attorneys failed to file the proper paperwork with the Florida Department of Financial Services at the same time they notified Charlotte County during the mandatory six-month notice period before a suit can be filed. Florida law sets the maximum amount a plaintiff can collect from a government entity at $200,000. If the court awards more, the Florida Legislature must approve it.

"I have new counsel now," said Nathan, who was recently on "Larry King Live" talking about the botched 911 call. "We are following all of the requirements of the law."

However, because of the paperwork snafu, in recently filed court documents, county attorneys claim Nathan has "unclean hands" in not following procedures.

According to court documents filed by Nathan's new firm, Wotitzky, Wotitzky & Ross, "Charlotte County has cited no legal authority to support its proposition that Mr. Lee has unclean hands under these, or other circumstances. This argument is not only devoid of merit, but it is offensive and should be disregarded."

"I don't even know what they mean by saying I have unclean hands," Nathan said this week. "My wife is dead, my two boys don't have a mother, yet they say my hands are unclean."

County attorneys have blocked Nathan's attempts at receiving the CCSO internal affairs investigative report that he believes contains supporting details for his wrongful death lawsuit. Their motion states that CCSO officials say they have to protect Kowalski's identity and that they are not required to release information prematurely, as it is an "ongoing investigation." Further, the motion states, the county is not "liable for the death of Mrs. Lee."

Although Nathan's attorneys could still file the civil suit without having a copy of the report they requested, they are waiting for a judge to make a ruling.

In court documents, Charlotte County contends if Nathan wants to sue and needs the internal affairs investigation as part of the discovery -- evidence made available to both sides -- he should wait until after his suit is filed.

Instead of providing Nathan with a "clean copy" of the investigation, he says the CCSO gave him a "heavily redacted," or blacked-out, copy of the report, citing it as an ongoing investigation.

Nathan's attorneys claim the investigation was complete more than a year and a half ago and is "clearly not ongoing."



Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thank you, Mr Whittington of NENA for your support

God bless you and other 9-1-1 industry leaders and employees who are continually trying to improve their call centers. If we can help you, please, we welcome all opportunities to do what we can.

President Whittington Sets '09-'10 Objectives

Posted: Thu, 07/23/2009 - 08:18

As I begin my term as NENA President and look towards the next twelve months, I offer you four goals for our association. It is up to all of us, every member of the NENA family, to do our part in making them a reality.

•First, we must maintain NENA’s role as a 9-1-1 and public safety leader;
•Second, we must commit to growing our association;
•Third, we should raise the standards by which 9-1-1 professionals are measured by getting behind the Emergency Number Professional program;
•And, finally, we must advocate for mandatory state and national training standards for all who serve in our nation’s 6,000 plus PSAPs.

First, we must maintain NENA's role as a 9-1-1 and public safety leader.
NENA has become the premier public safety association in North America because of our active and involved membership. For me, volunteering for chapter and national committees and attending events and conferences has always filled me with a sense of purpose and prepared me to better serve the public we are sworn to protect. With that in mind, I encourage you to expand your involvement in NENA and to be a leading voice in your center and in your community. Share your experiences and knowledge with those around you. You can be the one who re-energizes your office. You can be the one who pushes for real change in the 9-1-1 system. You can be the one who becomes a leader in moving us towards a Next Generation 9-1-1(?) system. Remember, your participation is instrumental to moving NENA and public safety forward.
Second, we must commit to growing our association.
Every emergency communications professional would benefit from joining NENA. Reach out to those who have not yet made the commitment to be part of our family – one that will embrace and utilize their unique talents and viewpoints. Tell others about the benefits of NENA membership: the support system, the operations and technical standards and best practices, the educational opportunities, the unparalleled informational resources and body of knowledge. Let them know that everyone benefits when we come together to speak with a unified voice. Help them to understand the real difference they can make for 9-1-1 every day by joining our mission.
Third, we should raise the standards by which 9-1-1 professionals are measured by getting behind the Emergency Number Professional program.
The ENP designation is, without a doubt, the premier certification in our industry. Nearly two-hundred thousand people in North America and hundreds of thousands around the world serve in public safety communications. However, currently only eight hundred of these individuals are ENP certified. We need to do better. I call on each of us to make ENP certification a priority in 2009. If you are an ENP, take it upon yourself to mentor someone and help them achieve this milestone. If you are not already an ENP, I strongly urge you to begin the course of study so that you can take the test in the fall. And even if you are not yet eligible to sit for the exam, be proactive. Start participating and accumulating points so that you can become an ENP in 2011 or 2012. It is not beyond your reach!

And, finally, we must advocate for mandatory state and national training standards for all who serve in our nation’s 6,000 plus PSAPs.
Almost every state requires certification of police officers, firefighters, paramedics, barbers, and even tanning bed operators. However, sadly, many states do NOT have requirements regarding the training and certification of emergency communications personnel. It is our responsibility to ensure that any call to 9-1-1 is received with the same level of professionalism and expertise no matter where it originates. I am very proud to say that NENA stands beside organizations such as the Denise Amber Lee Foundation in advocating coast-to-coast certification, and I ask you and your organization to lend your support. Never should anyone dial 9-1-1 for assistance and not get the very best trained public safety professional to answer their call. 9-1-1 personnel are our nation’s first first responders and their training must be viewed as an investment, not an expense. Lives depend on it

These are big goals, but I truly believe that we, the members of the NENA family, have what it takes to accomplish all of them. Like you, I am dedicated to NENA’s success and to improving public safety. If what I propose sounds difficult, let me share this quote from old police Lieutenant of mine. He was a man who loved to be tough on us, not to be mean, but because he knew it would make us rise to the occasion. He said, “There is nothing you can’t do. There are just things you haven’t done yet.” Throughout my career and my service to NENA I have always tried to keep these words and their meaning in my heart.

I thank you for this opportunity to serve NENA, and I look forward to working with you this year. Let’s begin this journey together, so that next year we can look back and say that there truly was nothing we couldn’t do.

Craig Whittington, ENP

Thursday, September 3, 2009

From the New Mexico Independent

In the battle against violent crime, we all need to be dot connectors

By Tracy Dingmann 9/3/09 1:08 AM

I was driving with my son the other day when we both saw something that made us laugh.

It was a young male driver and a female passenger traveling down Montgomery Boulevard in northeast Albuquerque in a clunker while waging an extremely physical battle. At first we saw what we thought was mutual rough tickling — but at times it looked like it might actually be slapping and punching.

At one point the woman’s flip-flop clad foot was sticking out the driver’s side window. Were they play-fighting? Re-enacting last night’s WWF title bout? It was hard to tell.

To be safe, the other drivers on the road steered clear of the car, which was weaving erratically. I watched from a distance as the car made a turn onto San Pedro Drive – with the driver and passenger still brawling – and drove out of sight.

What would you think? What would you do?

On a bright sunny Saturday I chose to interpret this odd incident as another example of the bizarre things people do when they drive. I stuffed it into that category and largely forgot about it.

Until a few days later, that is, when I heard about the case of Denise Amber Lee. She was a 21-year-old mother of two who was kidnapped in broad daylight from her home in Sarasota, Florida, and later found raped and shot to death.

A jury found Michael King guilty of her murder last week and will decide this week whether he should face the death penalty for his crimes.

What happened to Lee is horrific. But her death is even more tragic because at least two people saw her kidnapping in progress and called 911 in time to save her.

One female driver saw and heard Lee struggling with King as he drove down the street in his car.


While driving on US-41, Jane Kowalski made a cell phone call to 911 to report an emergency. “I was at a stoplight and a man pulled up next to me and there was a child screaming in the car,” she says on the call, placed at 6:30 p.m.

In chilling descriptions, Kowalski says she could hear “terrifying screaming” and that she’s “never heard anything like that.”

After she made eye contact with the driver, she says “a hand came up and started banging on the passenger window.”

She offers to follow the Camaro, but it turned before the operator could respond.

Kowalski did her best to get the operator to dispatch someone to help, but the information taken from her was never passed along to officers in the field who were actively looking for Lee. During King’s trial, broadcast live last week on TruTv, a devastated Kowalski testified about her efforts to get the attention of law enforcement that day.

Another person, a relative of the killer, lent King a shovel and a gas can as Lee lay bound in King’s car. From a few feet away, the relative saw Lee’s knee and head bob up – and saw King repeatedly push them down. He heard Lee (who he had never seen before) scream, “Call the cops,” but he thought it was just a “boyfriend/girlfriend thing.”

The relative called 911 much later, but his information was full of lies and did not help them find Lee in time. Police believe King killed Lee — who managed to call 911 herself from King’s car — and buried her within about an hour of when the calls were made.

I have no idea whether what I saw the other day in that car was a kidnapping or an incident of domestic violence. But I do know that I should have snapped out of it, taken a page from the Jane Kowalski playbook and called the cops.

It’s so easy to glide around the city in your car, whizzing past people and neighborhoods you don’t know and don’t think you have any reason to care about.

It is easy to just try to ignore murders on the West Mesa or gang-related shootings or anything else that looks weird because it doesn’t fit in with your demographic or your class or you just don’t want any trouble.

I mean, why wouldn’t you want to think only about your family and your house and your job and your car and your kids? There’s such bad news everywhere… desensitization is the logical choice, because who wants to face what’s really going on?

I think I was Exhibit A of that particular theory the other day, but I’m going to try to do better.

Hearing the horror story of Denise Amber Lee — who died because no one bothered to connect the dots — really haunts me. Not to mention the saga of Jaycee Lee Dugard, who suffered in captivity for 18 years right under the nose of her kidnapper’s parole officers and vaguely concerned neighbors.

I know it sounds a little sappy, but I think we can all do better.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nathan's Impact Statement

In today's Englewood Sun Editorial Page


Denise Lee's heroic efforts remain with us

OUR POSITION: There is no doubt the verdict in the Michael King case was just, or that Denise Amber Lee will be remembered by her family and community for her heroic struggle for life.

Above all reactions to the Michael King trial in recent weeks, none is so universal and powerful as the personal.

Our hearts and our prayers go to the family of Denise Amber Lee, to her children, her husband, her parents and all the relatives who loved this beautiful, heroic young woman and love her still.

Justice has been served. King was found guilty by a jury of murder, kidnapping and sexual battery. This was correct.

As the penalty phase of the trial begins this morning, we will defer comment on the question of whether King deserves to be executed for his grotesque crime.

We respect the arguments of those who oppose the death penalty and those who believe it is wrong for society to willfully take a life, no matter the circumstances. If there ever were a case that challenges the convictions of ardent death-penalty opponents, this clearly is it. King's crimes against our society are unforgivable; the family's loss is unfathomable.

Justice has been served, although the legal process seemed only to add another cruel layer to the family's pain. From the outset, the evidence against King was overwhelming. The police work was solid. No other scenario for the crime was remotely plausible.

Yet Denise's family and friends spent many excruciating hours plunged back into the nightmare of their loved one's final hours. They listened as Denise's frantic cell phone call to a police dispatcher was played, sat by as jurors looked at crime scene photos and viewed a bloodstained shirt, and they watched detailed reenactments.

Those who followed the case but didn't know Denise were no doubt revulsed by the words and images. But they, and we, only regard the suffering of others from a distance, no matter how short that distance might be and no matter how empathetic we might feel. The pain of those who loved Denise daily is immeasurable. This was horrifying. We know that much, and our hearts and prayers are with them at this time.

It is a cornerstone of our judicial system that a person accused of a crime must be presumed innocent in court, that he is entitled to the fullest defense possible, that all the evidence against him be aired in public and that he should be judged by a jury of fellow citizens. Our hearts may hate the cruelty this inflicts on a victim's family -- how they are victimized anew by the process -- but our heads understand the necessity of the process. There cannot be reasonable doubt about guilt. There is none in this case. That is how it should be.

Denise's husband and children, her extended family, continue to need our community's support. All gestures of kindness, no matter how small, do help.

The Lee family also deserves support in their effort to see legislation passed nationwide that insists on a higher level of 911 emergency training. The details of case of the botched 911 call is now familiar. But Denise's story should not end with this court case; we owe her the legacy of an improved police system that might prevent such a tragedy in the future.

Ultimately, Denise's legacy will be personal. It will be the heroism of a young woman, greatly loved, who fought as best as she possibly could for more time on this earth with her family, friends and community. No one can possibly forget that.