Friday, September 25, 2009

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.