Loretta Barela Murder Prompts Lawsuit Over 911 Botch
A family photo of Loretta Barela. More images, a video and more below.
In May, we told you about the guilty verdict against Christopher Perea for the murder of his wife, Loretta Barela. We also noted the botched 911 response that marred the case -- one that foreshadowed the April killing of Kristine Kirk, who was on the phone with an operator when she was shot to death.
Now, Barela's family has reportedly filed a lawsuit over her death, and while the City of Denver hasn't commented on the complaint thus far, a spokeswoman previously acknowledged that an investigation into the matter had been launched, only to be cut short when the dispatcher in question resigned -- and she acknowledged that he'd made mistakes. Photos, a video, an arrest report and more below.
As we noted in our previous report, the probable cause statement against Perea, included here, notes that at 2 a.m. on November 18, 2012, Denver police dispatch received a 911 call "on a possible domestic violence at 1535 S. Carlan Court." However, the report adds that "officers did not make contact with anyone at the residence during their response."
Then, at 8:16 a.m., more than six hours later, another 911 call came in, this time from Perea. His statement to the operator is blotted out in the PC statement, but 7News reports that he said he thought he'd killed his wife during a fight that night -- and he had. The operator directed him to begin performing CPR while emergency crews were en route, but it was too late, given that her body was cold and her jaw was stiff.
Perea, who'd racked up a pile of drug and weapons charges over the previous decade, was promptly arrested for killing Barela; the couple had married the previous December, a few months after she reportedly bailed him out of jail. However, the debate over 911 and police response in the case grew hotter for understandable reasons.
9News cited a neighbor who's said to have made the initial 911 call upon seeing Barela at the front door of the residence. She was topless and screaming for help before Perea allegedly dragged her back inside. That would seem to be more than enough to pique officers' interest. But the neighbor maintained that cops didn't show up -- so she called again at 2:45 a.m. to ask if they were planning to stop by. According to the station, officers finally appeared at 3 a.m., but their investigation consisted of shining a flashlight and knocking on a door before they left.
Unsurprisingly, Barela's children -- she had five of them -- were left bereft at the loss of their mom, and the thought that police might have done something to prevent the slaying compounded their pain and frustration, as was clear during a protest at the State Capitol in the days after the murder.
Responding to the report about 911 issues, Denver Police Chief Robert White launched an investigation into the claims of slow response time.
"We are working with communications to determine why there was a delay in the dispatching," he told the station. "And once the officers were dispatched, certainly look at the actions they took to make sure they were appropriate. We have to look at, you know, what kind of call? Was the complaint anonymous? How did the call get dispatched? How was the call made to communications? All those things have to be examined."
In May, Daelene Mix, communication director for the Manager of Safety's Office, confirmed that an investigation was indeed launched -- but it wasn't completed.
Mix told us the dispatcher in the incident -- the person who relays information to first responders, as differentiated from the actual call taker -- was put on immediate leave after the incident and an inquiry was put in motion.
However, Mix said the dispatcher resigned on December 12, before the discipline process could be completed.
At that point, Mix revealed, the investigation was halted based on the supposition that the error wasn't systemic. "They were far enough down the disciplinary path to see his actions caused this," she said. "It was very obvious the dispatcher held the call unnecessarily. He held the call for six minutes and three seconds before he did anything with it."
Mix is presumably referring to the 2 a.m. call, as opposed to the reported followup.
Had the response been faster, is there a chance Barela might still be alive? "That's a little speculative," Mix replied. "When officers did show up, they had no response at that time."
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Because of the conclusion that human error was at fault in the Barela case, no changes in the 911 system were instituted because of what happened. But things went forward differently after the death of Kristine Kirk.
In our earlier coverage, we noted that Kristine called 911 to say her husband, Richard Kirk, was behaving strangely after possibly eating a marijuana edible. He was allegedly hallucinating, talking about the end of the world and declaring his intention to shoot her -- which he did, while she was still on the line with the dispatcher.
The call is said to have gone on for around thirteen minutes. Moreover, a police station is only a short distance away from the Kirks' home on St. Paul Street, near the DU campus; officers were less than a mile away at the time of the fatal shooting. If they'd been dispatched immediately, some observers believe a tragedy might have been averted.
Afterward, Mix said, "we've made some recent policy changes" in the weeks following Kirk's death.
The late Kristine Kirk.
"Now, instead of one person having the discretion about when to dispatch emergency personnel to respond to a call, a supervisor within the 911 center is also notified," she pointed out. "And instead of just monitoring these calls, the call taker is now physically alerting a dispatch supervisor. And police can now change the situation themselves. They have the discretion to make the call a code 10" -- immediate response with the use of lights and sirens.
The result was what Mix characterizes as "a wide net of discretion, where there is more than one individual determining the appropriate response. And a lot of individuals who are part of that network have years and years of experience and situational awareness as it relates to emergencies."
The policy shifts weren't "a direct result of any one case," Mix allowed. Rather, they sprang from Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley's directive "to review policies that touch all our different agencies so that we can find ways to tighten them up."
Not that Mix suggested the timing of the new policy is entirely coincidental. "When these higher profile incidents happen, they're not lost on us," she said. "We take a deeper dive into what's going on to see what we can do to improve public safety -- and that's the impetus of this large policy review."
In the end, a jury found Perea guilty of first-degree felony murder, second-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping in Barela's death. But yesterday, 7News reports, her family filed a federal lawsuit claiming that operators "overlooked the urgency of the  calls."
Look below to see a full-size version of Perea's mug shot, a 9News report from November 2012, an interactive graphic showing the area near the crime scene (if you have problems seeing the image, click "View Larger Map") and the aforementioned probable cause statement.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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