Saturday, November 21, 2009

quote from Vern Buchanan

I want to share a quote from Congressman Vern Buchanan:

"The abduction and murder of Denise Amber Lee of North Port was a horrific crime," said Congressman Vern Buchanan (FL-13). "The fact that her death could have been prevented makes it all the more tragic.

"Most of Florida's 911 calls are handled correctly, but any mistake can mean the difference between life and death," added Buchanan. "Standardized training and testing for 911 operators and dispatchers is a worthy concept that could help save lives in the future."

There have been several articles this week in the paper and i have not had the time to post them all.

from today's Sun papers. I'm so grateful that Rick spoke up.

Charlotte Sheriff Speaks Out

CHARLOTTE COUNTY -- One week after learning Denise Amber Lee was found dead in the woods, then-Charlotte County Chief Deputy Bill Cameron says he went on TV and apologized to Denise's father, Rick Goff, and her widower, Nathan Lee.

Cameron, who was not the sheriff at the time when Denise was murdered on Jan. 17, 2008, was second in command to then-sheriff John Davenport.

Since becoming sheriff in 2008, Cameron says it's simply "not true" that the Charlotte County Sheriff's top brass has not told the families "countless times" they regret the loss of Denise and admitted mistakes were made leading up to her death.

"We have been painted as heartless monsters by Nathan Lee," Cameron said following the kidnapping, rape and murder of Denise, a 21-year-old North Port mother of two young boys. Her father, Goff, is a 25-year veteran with the Sheriff's Office.

Cameron was with Davenport at a Jan. 24, 2008, press conference that was called because the CCSO said the media kept reporting incorrect details of Denise's murder.

Davenport told the media several reported facts regarding a 911 call from eyewitness Jane Kowalski of Tampa weren't true.

On the night of Denise's death, Kowalski called 911 after seeing a dark Camaro with someone she described as a child in the back seat banging on the window and screaming.

She gave the CCSO call taker details of every cross street the suspicious vehicle passed. She also described the driver -- later identified as Michael King -- and the left turn he took onto Toledo Blade Boulevard back toward North Port. Denise's body was found buried off Toledo Blade two days later.

Following an Internal Affairs investigation, CCSO telecommunications staff members were disciplined for not dispatching the 911 call to North Port police officers already on a massive citywide manhunt for Denise and the Camaro.

Believing CCSO telecommunications didn't follow protocol, Nathan notified the CCSO he intended to sue for negligence and wrongful death on behalf of himself, Denise's estate, her two young sons and Denise's parents, Rick and Susan Goff.

In October, his attorney filed the lawsuit at the Charlotte County Justice Center in Punta Gorda.

Nathan has held several news conferences since Denise's death. After filing the lawsuit, he said he "never" received an apology for the critical information not reaching deputies on the night of his wife's murder.

Cameron said he couldn't speak for Davenport, but said he did apologize to the family and gave Rick and Nathan $100,000 collected by Sheriff's Office employees last year.

"After the press conference we held (on Jan. 24, 2008), we heard Rick Goff was upset because we did not apologize," Cameron said. "That wasn't the reason for the press conference, but I understood Rick was upset. After the press conference ended, I found a reporter from SNN and publicly on television, I said the Sheriff's Office was very sorry for what had happened."

Goff said he saw Cameron on SNN but didn't consider his remarks "real" because he was told the four people from the CCSO who wrote the speech didn't think to include an apology during the press conference.

"I was told by the (then) sheriff that sheriffs don't make a habit of apologizing," Goff said Friday.

Since Jan. 24, 2008, "I've apologized many times," Cameron said. "It was an emotional time for the Sheriff's Office. This is our family. Nate Lee is not our family, but Rick Goff is. This agency was devastated. We love Rick Goff."

Cameron said Nathan has "kicked us in the teeth."

"(Nathan) hired a public relations firm and is trying to win a lawsuit," he said. "Some of what has been done has been calculated by the firm."

Cameron said this week that Davenport apologized to the family in a "Dateline NBC" interview that aired in June 2008.

Davenport was shown twice during the hour-long special, but transcripts indicate he did not apologize to the family. He was asked if the botched 911 call was a missed opportunity, and he answered "certainly it was."

But Davenport said in the interview the handling of the call may not have changed the outcome that night. He said the assumption that Charlotte County "screwed up" and could've saved Denise's life is wrong.

If his department could be accused of anything, the sheriff told "Dateline," it would be trying too hard that night.

"Because it was one of our own (Rick Goff), and we knew it, and all the resources were being sent, it was chaos. It was stressful. I mean, in the course of trying to do too much, frankly, I think they missed the call," he said.

Davenport also told "Dateline" there was "no punishment" he could ever give the operators that they're not already facing themselves and living with every day.

"They feel terrible about this. Terrible," Davenport said to "Dateline." "I have total confidence in people that have been involved in this. I truly do. And they've been under pressure many times before. But they didn't make the mistake. This time they did. We all have."

Nathan said despite Davenport admitting mistakes were made, the CCSO continues to create obstacles for him, even before he filed the lawsuit.

He said the CCSO gave him a heavily redacted Internal Affairs report from the telecommunications employees suspensions. Nathan said he needed the report before filing the lawsuit. He also found out "Dateline" had obtained a "clean," unredacted copy of the document.

After taking the CCSO to court over the issue, the CCSO attorney told him to file a lawsuit to receive a clean copy. A judge agreed.

Cameron said he was "unaware" that "Dateline" ever requested a copy of the investigative report.

"Legally, we have to redact protected information about the case," Cameron said. "(Kowalski's) information has to be protected. At the time of Nathan's request, King was still being tried in court. It was an ongoing investigation. Rick works here. He could come in and see the report whenever he wants."

Nathan claims Kowalski wanted people to know who she is because she has gone on "Dateline" and other national TV shows to tell her story. She also testified in court during King's trial.

"That doesn't matter," Cameron said. "The law says we have to redact that part of the report. We told Nathan's attorneys that if they had any questions about the redacted information, that we would answer them."

Next, Nathan said the CCSO filed a motion last week to have the wrongful death lawsuit thrown out of court. Court records show the CCSO believes the agency didn't have to protect Denise any differently than any other citizen. However, on the day of the murder, the North Port Police Department issued a "be on the look out" for Denise two hours before Kowalski's call came into the CCSO dispatch center.

"I don't want to get into a fighting match with the sheriff," Nathan said. "It's tough for Rick because he works for the Sheriff's Office and he's part of my family. He loves his grandsons and his daughter so much.

"I expected the CCSO would try to block the lawsuit because they don't want to pay for their grievous incompetence," he added. "I just think the taxpayers need to know that their money is going to fight our family. The CCSO's actions speak louder than their words."

Cameron said he couldn't discuss the lawsuit, but the Sheriff's Office is supportive of Goff.

"Rick and I stay in touch all of the time," he said. "After this happened, I was with Rick and Nate the whole weekend. I kept them up to date with everything we knew."

During King's two-week murder trial in September, Cameron showed up for 25 minutes one day to support Goff. That's the last time Goff said he saw or spoke to Cameron.

Cameron maintains his agency "worked hard" to help with the details and police work needed to bring King to justice. A judge will sentence King to either death or life in prison in December.

"We worked closely with the North Port Police Department and other agencies to bring the case to a successful close," Cameron said. "You won't hear about that because our agency has been painted like the bad guy."

The Sheriff's Office recently lent support for proposed legislation by state Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, for a 911 mandatory training bill he is confident will pass next year.

Cameron said he has been working with Roberson for "a long time" in drafting the proposed legislation.

According to CCSO spokesman Bob Carpenter, "the sheriff has been in Tallahassee a few times before, giving input on this legislation."



North Port Community News Editor

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Today's Sun Herald by Elaine Allen-Emrich

The nice thing about today's article is the Sun had a picture of Denise and Nathan. Usually the papers print a picture of Denise and a shot of King or they print a picture of Nathan and a shot of King. Today there was one of Nate and one of Denise. I know this sounds like a silly comment but it's been difficult and, yes, painful at times seeing Denise and King's pictures taking up the same print on the same page.

As to the article and Bill Cameron all I can say is "friggin' unbelievable".

Sheriff's Office Wants Lees Lawsuit Thrown Out

Published on: Saturday, November 14th, 2009

PUNTA GORDA -- The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office has asked that the civil lawsuit Nathan Lee filed against the agency a month ago in the death of his wife Denise be thrown out of court, according to court documents filed this week.

The CCSO states the case should be dismissed with prejudice and asks for Lee to pay court fees.

In the 13-page motion, the Sheriff's Office claims no responsibility for Denise Amber Lee's death due to a "mishandled" 911 call because her murder was committed by a third party -- Michael King.

The motion states, "Absent a special duty to protect a person from being victimized by a criminal act, a governmental agency's duty to protect a citizen is a general duty owed to the public at large, and any actions taken in fulfilling that responsibility will not be subject to scrutiny by way of a suit for damages."

A court hearing has not been set yet in the case..

Lee maintains that a 911 call taker and dispatchers failed to send any help for his wife on Jan. 17, 2008, after an eyewitness, Jane Kowalski, called to report suspicious activity in the vehicle next to her while she was driving south on U.S. 41 in Charlotte County. Denise, 21, had been kidnapped by King from her North Port home and was blindfolded and bound in the back seat of his Camaro, which was traveling near Kowalski's car.

In a detailed, nine-minute call, Kowalski told a 911 call taker that the person in the Camaro's back seat was screaming and slapping the window. King turned left on Toledo Blade Boulevard, and Kowalski was unable to follow.

Denise's body was found two days later in a wooded area off Toledo Blade.

Lee claims the botched handling of the 911 call in the CCSO dispatch center helped lead to Denise's death. He says employees proved "severe incompetence" in handling the 911 call and "breached their duties" by incorrectly performing numerous operational acts -- including failing to timely air BOLOs about King's Camaro from the North Port Police Department to deputies, failing to communicate the information from Kowalski, failing to timely log her call into the system for 12 minutes after the call was made, and failing to dispatch the information from the call.

"I just think people who live in Charlotte County should be concerned that (the CCSO) are saying they had no duty to protect Denise," Lee said Friday. "It's so unbelievable to say."

Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Cameron was named as the defendant in Lee's 17-page wrongful death lawsuit. Although Cameron was not the sheriff at the time -- John Davenport was -- Lee is required to name him on behalf of the Sheriff's Office for legal purposes, said his attorney, Patrick Boyle of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz.

Boyle said he expected the Sheriff's Office to fight the suit "every step of the way."

"It's common for challenges in most civil cases," Lee agreed.

The civil suit doesn't specify an amount Lee is seeking. State law allows only $200,000 to be awarded in a settlement of such a suit, but a jury can award more.

The CCSO conducted an Internal Affairs investigation following the incident. Two dispatchers were suspended for not following protocol.

The sheriff's motion filed this week states Lee's lawsuit puts a spin on the 911 call, saying that because Kowalski called 911 and alerted law enforcement about the situation, she didn't take any further action to help Denise (because she expected the Sheriff's Office to respond timely) -- "thereby increasing the risk of harm faced by Mrs. Lee."

In the call, Kowalski gave specific street names and explained that King turned onto Toledo Blade. She told the operator she didn't follow him because traffic was too heavy. Kowalski pulled over and asked that someone follow up with her.

The operator indicated in the call that the vehicle was headed toward Interstate 75.

Denise's body was found less than a mile from the Interstate. King was pulled over as he entered I-75 nearly three hours after Kowalski's call.

The CCSO motion also contends that no special relationship existed between the Sheriff's Office and Denise compared to anyone else in the general public -- meaning she wasn't entitled to any special protection.

The CCSO suggests the agency is only liable when a special relationship exists if employees make promises to provide assistance "uniquely responsive to someone, and the person relies upon those assurances to his detriment," according to the motion.

Jurors recommended the death penalty for King in September. A Sarasota judge ultimately will decide his fate in December.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Today's Herald Tribune

Since we learned about this motion I've been holding off commenting. I am doing my best to restrain myself from saying anything unladylike. It's unbelievable. "Special Relationship"? What's that? I just cannot understand how the sheriff's department, namely Bill Cameron (who was in charge the night Denise died) refuses to accept any responsibility for this debacle. He and the sheriff before him (John Davenport) and their cronies truly do not believe they did anything wrong and are doing anything wrong. It's unconscionable. No apologies. No nothing. They just want to wash their hands of the whole thing. "She would have died anyway" according to John Davenport. They would have swept the entire incident under the rug if Jane Kowalski had not persisted in her phone calls to the North Port Police Department and had we not read the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs report. sigh.

Here's an article from today's paper by Jason Witz with the Herald Tribune.

Sheriff's Office wants Lee suit thrown out

By JASON WITZ Correspondent

Published: Friday, November 13, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 at 11:58 p.m.

CHARLOTTE COUNTY - Nathan Lee's wrongful death lawsuit against the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office should be thrown out because the agency gave no specific promises it would protect his wife, a motion released Thursday stated.

In a 13-page motion filed in Charlotte County circuit court, lawyers for the Sheriff's Office argued that 911 workers did not make "assurances to provide assistance uniquely responsive" to a key witness who reported seeing Denise Lee with her captor.

The motion asks a judge to dismiss Nathan Lee's lawsuit seeking damages from the Sheriff's Office in the murder of Denise Lee after her January 2008 kidnapping and rape. A hearing date for the motion has not been set.

The Sheriff's Office contends it would not be liable in Lee's death because no "special relationship" existed with her compared with the general public.

Although the operation of a 911 communication system is part of law enforcement services provided to the public, the agency is liable only when a special relationship is created, the motion states.

The Sheriff's Office contends that such relationship would exist only if, through employees, it makes assurances to provide assistance uniquely responsive to someone, and the person relies upon those assurances to his detriment, according to the motion.

Without that relationship, the attorneys contend, a governmental agency's duty to protect a person cannot be subject to a suit.

Lawyers say there is "no factual basis" to suggest any Sheriff's Office employees made any special promises during its 911 call with Tampa resident Jane Kowalski, who saw Denise Lee in the back of her abductor's car, near the Charlotte-Sarasota County line, pleading for help. Call takers failed to alert deputies, who were patrolling nearby.

Nathan Lee's suit accuses Sheriff Bill Cameron and his employees of being negligent in investigating the abduction of Denise Lee and contributing to her death.

Denise Lee, 21, was later found buried in a shallow grave in North Port, a few miles from where Kowalski had seen her in the car driven by unemployed North Port plumber Michael King, who awaits sentencing for his conviction for murder, kidnap and rape.

Lee is seeking a jury award of more than the statutory limit of $200,000. He said the motion seems contrary to the motto "To serve and protect."

"I'm just extremely frustrated," he said.

The Sheriff's Office is arguing it "had no duty to protect Denise," Nathan Lee added. "I definitely think the citizens of Charlotte County should be concerned about that."

Cameron said the agency would not comment.

Sheriff's Office lawyers say Kowalski was never told to take any action other than observe King's vehicle, court documents show.

But Lee's suit alleges that the Sheriff's Office's handling of Kowalski's call prevented her "from taking other action to help Denise Lee, thereby increasing the risk of harm faced by Lee."


Friday, November 6, 2009

Where to begin?

Many people have been asking about me and my blog. They have expressed concern that I have not blogged lately. Where to begin? So much has happened in such a short amount of time. So many emotions have been felt. It's difficult to even know where to begin.

Life is moving forward for our family. We've had weddings, births and deaths.... Life and death are moving us forward. Joy and sorrow. Lots and lots of love. So much support. So much anger. It's been.... in a word? overwhelming and emotionally exhausting.

We've been called "killers", "media whores", "heroes", and "inspiring". Some have said we are only "in it for the money" and "publicity".

I must say the goodness in people and the kind thoughts and prayers have heavily outweighed the other less than kind comments.

As you all know, I'm very very proud of Nathan. And, Denise....... gosh, how they have both in their heroism and strength have humbled me. I thought I was a strong woman and that I've met with great hardship and tragedy in the past. But, I have never had to face or endure what Denise had to endure. And, yet, still, she rose up and maintained her grace and dignity throughout her ordeal. On her 9-1-1 call, she begged King 17 times and used the words "please". She even fought with grace and dignity. She saved Noah and Adam. Yes, I consider Denise a saint. She was nothing but pure goodness. We were so blessed to have had her as part of our family even for such a short time. Did we know it and appreciate it while she was alive. Yes, I believe we did. But did we recognize the magnitude of her goodness? No. We just took it for granted. She was a nice girl. That's all we knew. I never had a clue to as how strong, brave and smart she was. Nathan did though. Nathan knew.

And, Nathan? gosh, how he's humbled me, too. The way he's faced this horrific ordeal can only be commended. He's working so hard to turn a negative into a positive. He's working so hard to keep Denise's spirit and love alive in Noah and Adam. He's working so hard to be happy and to smile. He insists Denise would want him smiling and happy, not cowering in a corner. Not many people are aware of the pain and suffering he endured after she died. Not many people had a window into his grief. I did. Not many people have a window into how he still struggles. Why? I assume it's because he does not want to cause more pain. Pain has such a ripple affect. Pain is not easy to watch.

We went to a funeral this past Wednesday. The young man who died was Denise's age and went to school with Denise. He was 23. He spent his later years struggling with drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol won out in the end. He was at a party, went in a passed out and never woke up. Watching his family's pain was horrific. Watching his mom struggle with the "whys" we continue to struggle with. Pain on display.

Shawn the young man's older brother put his pain on display. He gave one of the most moving eulogies I have ever heard. It was heartfelt. He did not hold anything back. He hit the nail on the head and did not pull any punches. We really do have to be true to ourselves and love ourselves.

I've received derogatory comments on this blog about our travels and our sharing our story with 9-1-1 calltakers and dispatchers across the country. They termed it as "fun" and referred to these trips as "vacations". They said we were not grieving and that we were causing more pain to the Goffs who were truly grieving. sigh. I finally had to shut the "comments" button off because no matter how untrue I knew it was, it was still hurtful. Pain on display. I guess I asked for the comments when I started blogging.

No. Pain on display is never easy. Only malicious people would find joy in other's pain.

I'm proud of the girl Nathan is dating. We've gotten grief about that too. Nathan dating so soon that is. Nathan started dating her last year. Yes, that was difficult for us. We weren't ready to move on. We were still and are still grieving. We did not think that Nathan should be moving on so soon. Little did we realize at the time that Nathan "needed" to move on in order to survive. This young lady has seen Nathan through a hell that I just can barely imagine even though I'm his mother. She's been there for Nathan through hell. Hopefully someday their relationship will bloom and grow and there will be marriage in sight. The boys love her. But, if it doesn't, Nathan could not ask for a better friend. I cannot say what Denise would be thinking if she were alive. She's not alive. She's dead and since she's in heaven I can only think of her thinking loving thoughts and praying for Nathan's sanity and happiness. That's the kind of person she was. She would not want to see Nathan doomed to perpetual pain or worse driven insane through pain.

It's so easy to judge other people. We judged and we were wrong to judge. Of course, for us we were only looking out for our son, his sanity and his future. Those others who have made snide comments? Who are they looking out for? Not Nate, not Denise and not Noah and Adam.


And, yes, our family was called "killers" because Michael King's jury recommended the death penalty. What's up with that? Some families members spoke out saying unequivocally that we wanted the death penalty for King. Personally, I have mixed emotions about it. Killing King will never bring Denise back. Killing King will never take the pain away he caused her, the terror, the suffering, the violation, the brutality, the callousness of him just listening to her begging for her life..... She'll still have suffered all that pain. Nothing will ever minimize it or take it away. Well, I take that back. If there is indeed a heaven, Denise is there, and no one can ever hurt her again. But killing King is not going to help her. But killing King will do a couple of things that will help me. One, I feel better knowing he'll NEVER be able to hurt another person once he's dead. Two, he'll never be able to think of his crime and fantasize over it. He won't be able to dream about it or glory in it. And I believe he does think about it and fantasize about it. He should have Denise wiped completely out of his brain. I don't even want him visualizing her. So, if wishing King dead makes me a killer than so be it. Some people need killing. Some deserve mercy. King does not.


We've been doing a lot of positive stuff in helping 9-1-1 and it's industry. These trips we go on..... The lives that are touched. And it's Denise who is touching them. We're just the tools and the story tellers. We share her story in hopes that other 9-1-1 call centers can learn from it. You can see how apprehensive they all are about hearing the story. You can see their apprehension as far as talking to us. They don't know what to say. But, once the ice is broken and they hear the story, everyone just rises up and wants to do better. And some (most really) are already doing fantastic jobs. Then they take Denise's story back with them to the other call takers and dispatchers in their comm centers. They wear their bracelets with pride. They feel appreciated and thank us! We should be thanking them. It truly is a thankless job. Most of the general public still think of them as telephone operators without brains that just place the call to the appropriate department. These people have to multitask, think out of the box, listen to all kinds of horrific situations, listen to all kinds of crap, maintain control or gain some control..... all this while trying their damdest to figure out where a cell phone call is coming from. It's crazy! But still... one guy in Illinois told me of a woman in his call center that "is" just like our call taker was. She's been there 20 years or so and does not like typing into the CAD. She "still" writes things down. I did not know what to say. I wanted to yell at him. "WHAT! ARE YOU WAITING FOR SOMEONE TO DIE!" But I didn't. I thought my goodness. Even after hearing our story this supervisor is "hoping" Denise's story will help his call taker see the light. sigh. Some people get it, some don't.

I better go. My emotions are starting to run away with me. I did not re-read this so, please, forgive any errors. Everything was typed off the cuff.