GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An internal affairs report obtained by Target 8 concluded a 911 operator did not hear five crucial words whispered by a terrified caller as she fought to save her own life.
“He already killed my auntie,” Keyona Griffin whispered frantically to Grand Rapids Police Dispatch the morning of March 13, 2019.
“Can you just hurry up, please,” Griffin pleaded, saying she would die next if officers did not arrive quickly.
“I’m fittin to die … He’s tryin’ to kill me,” she whispered, allegedly referring to Derrell Demon Brown, her aunt’s live-in boyfriend.
According to a GRPD internal affairs report, acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, the 911 call-taker did not hear Griffin say, “he already killed my auntie.”
“It should be noted that (internal affairs) investigators realized a whispered statement was missed by the 911 call operator… (the) statement, ‘He already killed my auntie,'” wrote the report’s author. “This (reported death) was not in the call for service, or relayed to the responding officers, due to the fact it was not heard by the call taker.”
In other words, the three officers who arrived at 553 Sheldon Southeast seven minutes after Griffin’s 911 call, knew only that a woman had said someone was trying to kill her, not that she’d reported a murder had already occurred.
In February, Target 8 aired audio of Griffin’s haunting 911 call for the first time, nearly three years after the horrific double murder took place.
Brown is still on the run from federal marshals, wanted for the shooting deaths of Griffin and her aunt, Brown’s girlfriend, Cherletta Baber-Bey.
The internal affairs report, released to Target 8 on Friday, went on to note the steps officers did take once on scene that day.
Those steps included knocking repeatedly on the front and side doors, jiggling locked doorknobs, peering in windows, listening quietly for trouble inside, running a license plate on a vehicle in the driveway and asking dispatch to try to get the caller back on the line, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
The 911 call-taker had managed to learn Griffin’s first name during the 25-year-old’s initial, one-minute call and confirmed through records that a woman named Keyona Griffin did indeed live at the address.
The internal affairs investigator also noted a fourth officer, a sergeant who’d heard the initial dispatch, responded to the scene to check on the officers’ response.
“Sergeant (name redacted) advised he was told by (a responding officer) what attempts were made at the house. Sergeant… asked (the officer) if they had enough information to force entry into the home and (the officer) advised he did not believe there was, at that time,” the report said.
GRPD REPORT: DISPATCH, OFFICERS ACTED APPROPRIATELY
Internal Affairs investigators concluded both the dispatcher and the responding officers acted appropriately.
“(Responding officers’) preliminary efforts provided them no more information to act on, or any signs of a crime being committed. The officers on scene were unaware of the danger the caller (Keyona Griffin) was in, or had already fallen to, nor did they play any part in the violence (later) taken by a private citizen,” the report said.
Also quoted in the report were the findings of two lead administrators who oversee the operation of Grand Rapids Police Dispatch.
“(We’ve) reviewed this call several times and have concluded that the call was handled well based on the circumstances,” wrote Communications Manager Karen Chadwick.
“It would’ve been helpful if the whispered words “he’s already killed” had been discerned but that would not have changed the incident type or priority of the call. It took several reviews of the call with the speakers on high volume to hear that specific portion. The call was entered quickly and (the call taker) immediately began searching FileMaker for related information. As soon as that was completed and entered in the CAD (Computer-Aided Dispatch) case, he went to another ringing 911 call. In addition, the call was dispatched in 13 seconds from entry time.”
Two and a half hours after officers left the scene, another 911 caller reported the discovery of two women, dead from gunshot wounds, inside the home at 553 Sheldon.
Griffins’ brother found her body, as well as that of their aunt, Baber-Bey, 47.
Police and prosecutors have said previously officers did not have legal standing to enter the home without further evidence of a crime.
According to the internal affairs report, GRPD investigated its own conduct that day after the murder victims’ family alleged GRPD was “grossly negligent,” and that the officers’ decision to leave the scene “was based on the initial caller being a person of color,” wrote the IA investigator.
It’s a claim the report denied.
“I conclude that none of the officers who responded knew what race the 911 caller was,” wrote the report’s author, determining the officers did not violate the department’s “impartial policing policy,” which states in part, “Employees shall base all stops, detentions, investigative activities and arrests on a standard of reasonable suspicion, probable cause or other appropriate legal standard.”
VICTIM’S FAMILY: IF IT WERE FOREST HILLS, POLICE WOULD HAVE BROUGHT CAVALRY
Despite the conclusion of the internal affairs investigation, the victims’ family still believes GRPD failed their loved ones.
“If it would have been East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills or some other affluent area, they would have came with the whole cavalry,” Sanford Cumming Sr told Target 8. “The house would have been surrounded, and they would not have left until the owner came, or they found out who was in that home. They wouldn’t have left.”
Onyah Griffin, who lost her daughter and sister, questioned what constitutes a “welfare check?”
“They told us it was a welfare check. OK, but then you don’t verify that the person’s welfare is OK. You just leave? I just don’t understand,” remarked Onyah Griffin.
The family is talking to an attorney and hopes to file a lawsuit against the city.
It’s a difficult path to pursue as legal questions remain about the duty of police and potential qualified immunity barriers.
The family is also asking anyone with information on Brown’s whereabouts to call U.S. Marshals.
There’s a $25,000 reward for a tip that leads directly to his arrest.
7 OF REPORT’S 11 PAGES BLACKED OUT
Grand Rapids police blacked out — redacted — transcripts of the department’s actual interviews with the dispatcher and responding officers.
Seven of the internal affairs report’s 11 pages were black.
The city argued the interviews are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
“Certain statements made by officers are prohibited from disclosure and have been withheld pursuant to the Disclosures by Law Enforcement Officers Act,” wrote GRPD’s FOIA coordinator. “It is the City’s position that public interest in the disclosure of this information is outweighed by the public interest in keeping this information private. The core purpose of the FOIA is to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operation of activities of the government. Requests for information on private citizens accumulated in government files that reveal little to nothing about the inner working of government do not serve the core purpose of the FOIA. See ESPN, Inc. v Michigan State University, 311 Mich. Ap. 662 (2015).”
Target 8 plans to appeal those exemptions.