Crime

Kristine Kirk murder: 911 report suggests flaw in system may have contributed to her death

Last month, Kristine Kirk was killed by her husband, Richard Kirk, while she was on the phone with a 911 operator. Afterward, the Manager of Safety launched an investigation into the 911 system's response in the incident, and earlier this month, an office spokeswoman told us she'd recommended against releasing the results of the inquiry on a Friday afternoon, a media dead zone when agencies notoriously issue unpleasant information. She agreed that the case was too important to treat in such a manner.

Well, guess what: The report was shared this past Friday afternoon, when it got little attention -- and the ambiguous conclusion offers a possible explanation why. While internal disciplinary proceedings are underway in the case, it appears the dispatcher may have followed protocol that wasn't changed until after Kristine's tragic death.

In our earlier coverage, we noted that on April 14, Kristine called 911 to say Richard was behaving strangely after possibly eating a marijuana edible; he was also on medication for his back. Kristine said Richard was 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 operator.

The call took in the range of twelve-thirteen minutes. Moreover, a police station is only a short distance away from the Kirks' home on St. Paul Street, near the DU campus, and officers were less than a mile away at the time of the shooting. If they'd been dispatched immediately, some observers believe a tragedy might have been averted.

This is hardly the only time 911 dispatch has come in for criticism. Last month, we reported that there have been sixty 911 dispatcher complaints over a two year period and at least one death -- that of Jimma Reat, who was with a group that had narrowly escaped an attack from occupants of another vehicle when a 911 dispatcher directed him and his companions to wait for a Denver police officer near the original scene. The men were soon spotted by the original assailants and Reat was slain.

In addition, a 911 investigation following the death of Loretta Barela was aborted when the dispatcher resigned. Manager of Safety communication director Daelene Mix (the spokesperson alluded to above) said this decision was made because of the determination that the dispatcher's error had been at fault in the case, for which Christopher Perea was convicted of murder, rather than there being a problem with the 911 system as a whole.

At the time of our previous conversation with Mix, the Kirk inquiry was incomplete -- but she revealed that "we've made some recent policy changes" that went into effect in late April/early May.

"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 said. "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.

These shifts create what Mix characterized 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 aren't "a direct result of any one case," Mix maintained . 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."

Maybe so -- but the events described in the newly issued report about the Kirk shooting fit closely with the new guidelines.

Continue for more about the Manager of Safety's Office report about 911 response in Kristine Kirk's death, including additional photos, a video and an original document.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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