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.