Dispatchers face discipline in handling of 911 call

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OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — An internal investigation found that an incorrect classification of a 911 call was part of the “perfect storm” that delayed police response to a Spring Lake Township home where a father was killed.

The Ottawa County dispatcher who took the initial Dec. 1 call from Kenneth Boone, 25, coded it as “Priority 2 Mental-Health Related.”

Boone, who was arguing with his father, had requested police assistance, but there were no available deputies at the time, so the “Priority 2” call sat in the computer, until Boone called back one hour and nine minutes later to report he’d hurt his dad.

Deputies responded to the home on Pawnee Drive and found Jim Boone, 64, beaten to death, and his son, Kenneth, walking the neighborhood with the alleged murder weapon, a hammer, still in his hand.

“We feel it should have been coded as a Priority 1 Domestic,” said Pete McWatters, who headed the internal investigation into the call’s handling.

But McWatters, executive director of Ottawa County Central Dispatch Authority, was quick to point out that the dispatchers involved are “stellar” employees who do “heroic work” every day.

“This is hindsight with the value of time and investigation. Our dispatchers are handling multiple calls. They are forced to make very quick decisions. I don’t think any reasonable person listening to that (initial) call would have predicted the ultimate outcome that he was going to murder his father. However, there was some verbal conflict taking place at the time,” McWatters said.

Because there was “verbal conflict” between son and father, and it was a domestic relationship, McWatters said a Priority 1 classification would have been more appropriate.

He refused to say whether Kenneth Boone threatened his dad with violence during the initial call, though McWatters did say no assault had taken place at that point.

“Unfortunately, the call held just due to how busy it was that morning. We did not push it forward to anybody and it sat (in the computer) until Kenneth Boone called back at 7:24 a.m,” McWatters said.

If the call had been classified Priority 1, McWatters said dispatchers would likely have called the sheriff’s department directly to ask for guidance since all cars were tied up on other incidents at the time.

“We should have contacted the sheriff’s department at some point,” said McWatters.

At the time of the initial call, McWatters said deputies were tied up on a death investigation in another part of the county, an operating while intoxicated arrest and snow-related traffic issues.

McWatters declined to specify what kind of discipline those involved might face, though it will likely include supplemental training.

“I think the agency has to take ownership of (the incident.) We’ll use it as a learning tool moving forward. The people involved, I can assure you are great employees with a great work history,” he said.

McWatters said they’re considering initiating new protocols that require dispatchers to contact the sheriff’s department directly if a call has been holding for a certain amount of time.

“Situations like these are tough because we’re in the business of helping people and people here are dedicated to doing that and, when something doesn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped, something as tragic as this, it’s tough,” McWatters said.

Discipline is being considered for four dispatch employees in all, including the initial call taker, two dispatchers and a supervisor.

Relatives of Jim Boone declined to comment when reached at the Pawnee Drive home.

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