In November 2012, we published a post entitled DID DENVER POLICE DELAY GIVE CHRISTOPHER PEREA TIME TO KILL LORETTA BARELA?
Two years later, Barela's family issued a lawsuit making just such a claim — and the assertions about 911 botches were reinforced by an amended complaint filed days ago.
Now, audio of the calls has surfaced, adding a shocking dimension to an already tragic case.
As we've reported, 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, around 8:15 a.m., more than six hours later, another 911 call came in, this time from Perea, who'd racked up a pile of drug and weapons charges over the previous decade. He said he thought he'd killed Barela.
Perea 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.
Reports cited a neighbor who was said to have made the initial 911 call upon seeing Barela at the front door of the residence. Barela was topless and screaming for help before Perea allegedly dragged her back inside.
That would seem to have been 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.
Officers finally appeared after 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 said. "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."
The following May, Daelene Mix, communication director for the Manager of Safety's Office, confirmed that an investigation had indeed been 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 was 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."
More insight is provided by the 911 recordings, obtained by CBS4. You can hear them below, but they began with this exchange between the operator and the neighbor.
911 Operator: Denver 911, what is the address of your emergency?
Caller: It’s across the street at my house. My neighbor came and was pounding on my door and she had pants on and no shirt on.
During that conversation, the operator said, "We’ll get the officers to go over there, and like I said, I’ll put you up as an anonymous caller." But when the lion's share of an hour passed without the arrival of officers, the neighbor called back:
Caller: It’s been like 45 minutes and I’m really worried because like he, they came to the house, she pounded on the door and he drug her from my steps to her house.
In response, the operator said, "No we haven’t forgot about you, but it’s been extremely busy tonight and we will have couple officers to head out there and check on them."
By the way, the Barela family lawsuit claims the other police reports that night pertained to a robbery and two traffic accidents — and the cops found nothing after turning up at 3:07 a.m., an hour and eleven minutes after the first 911 call.
Then, at 8:15 a.m., Perea called 911, telling the operator, "She's cold."
"She's cold," the operator asked. "You want to try to do CPR? You want to try to help her?"
Unfortunately, Barela was beyond help by then — and her family believes that if the police had shown up in a timely matter, she wouldn't have perished at Perea's hands.
The city, meanwhile, has been mum since the filing of the first lawsuit. However, CBS4 quotes court documents as saying that Denver argues that it "has no obligation to provide emergency services and is protected by governmental immunity."
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