Police to review 911 call in student's death
After 20-year-old Johns Hopkins neuroscience student Miriam Frankl was struck and killed by a vehicle on St. Paul Street, a man from Southeast Baltimore complained that he had called police 90 minutes earlier but felt ignored.
Now, the Baltimore Sun has obtained, through a Public Information Act request, a tape of his 911 call (listen here). Police tell me they're reviewing the procedures to determine whether the appropriate steps were followed.
The caller, Nicholas F. Walters, was particularly angry (he first spoke to WJZ-TV, and then to me this week after we listened to the full recording) that the operator appeared to immediately dismiss his complaint:
"I'd like to report something," Walters said.
The dispatcher answered: "We don't make reports over the phone."
That appears now to be a slight miscommunication (Walters wanted to report a crime; the operator assumed he wanted a report filled out), but it set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Part of it is a communication gap -- Walters wanted to get the cops to put out an alert for a white pickup truck he saw speeding erratically and blowing red lights on Broadway. The operator needed to get very specific questions answered to decide whether to sent a police car.
At one point, Walters had to ask the operator whether she wanted the license plate of the vehicle he saw. At the end, he refused to leave his name.
In listening to the tapes, there appears another problem. A police dispatcher does indeed inform an officer -- a supervisor in the Southeast District -- about a car possibly driven by a drunken driver speeding north on Broadway. He does not give the officer the license plate number.
The officer asks: "How old is the call?"
Dispatcher: "Um, three minutes, maybe four minutes.
Officer: "Edward no."
That's the code for coding out the call, a determination of unfounded. It's impossible the officer could've responded to the location, 200 N. Broadway, and come to that conclusion in an instant unless his patrol car was at the intersection.
But the dispatcher had also told the officer he was informing the Eastern District, and the officer could've concluded that by the time he got to the location, the pickup would already be in the Eastern. A police spokesman told me the department is reviewing the case to determine what happened to the call and whether it was handled appropriately.
We know the suspect in the case, Thomas Meighan Jr., has been convicted of drunken driving nine times in the past and that he's been charged with numerous traffic offenses, though not at this time with manslaughter or driving under the influence of alcohol. Another looming question is how a car allegedly driving so erratically managed to elude authorities for so long.
Here is a transcript of Walters 911 call and the initial police response:
Man: “... No, but I’d like to report something.”
Operator: “We don’t make reports over the phone.”
Man: “OK. OK. .. I, I, .. No, I’ve just been following this drunk driver around and I called ....”
Operator: “Where at?”
Man: “Well, last time I saw him blowing through three red lights on Broadway heading north.”
Operator: “What hundred block? Or what was the cross street?
Man: “Across Fayette. And I don’t know. ..He’s been down around here around Highlandtown but I couldn’t keep up with it. I....
Operator: “Is it a male or female driver?”
Man: “It’s a male, white male, in a white pickup with electrical boxes, a ladder and an orange cone on it.”
(She verifies his description of the truck. He confirms it.)
Man: “He’s got a sticker on the back that says Tate Engineering. ... I called that company and they say that’s not their truck. I have his license tag, if you like.”
Operator: “Is it a Maryland tag?”
Operator: “What’ the tag number?”
Man: “94W412... I even watched him jump out of his truck and urinate right there by Patterson Park. He appears to be looking for something around here because he keeps [garbled] all around here. But I’ve lost him with his last little activity.”
Operator: “Do you want to leave your name and telephone number?”
Man: “No. I don’t need to do that. I just wanted to let you guys know. Thank you.”
Operator: “Police will be out.”
Dispatcher: “Baker 10”
Dispatcher: “I wonder if you can advise on this and I’m going to send this over to Eastern District. Heading northbound on Broadway from 200 block there was a white pickup truck, Maryland tag, Tate Engineering on the back, electrical boxes, et cetera on the vehicle. Caller believes that the guy’s intoxicated.”
Officer: “How old is the call?”
Dispatcher: “Um, three minutes, maybe, four minutes.”
Operator: “Edward No.