December 13, 2008

Brittany Zimmermann's scream: "If I heard the initial 'scream,' it didn't register as a scream."

Said the 911 operator, Rita Gahagan:
She said she later heard background noises that police have said indicate a struggle, but they "didn't register as anyone in obvious distress."

The interview was conducted days after Gahagan mishandled the 911 call from University of Wisconsin-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann, who was stabbed to death in her apartment April 2. Her murder remains unsolved.

Until Thursday, the county had refused to release Gahagan's interview; it provided the four pages documenting the interview after it was ordered to do so by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess. A group of media outlets is suing the county for access to records related to its handling of the call.

The newly released records show county officials have not been candid with the public about the call.

They show they realized within days of Zimmermann's homicide that the call contained a scream. Yet weeks later, then-911 center director Joe Norwick insisted the dispatcher had no way of distinguishing the call from dozens of accidental and "hang-up" calls the center receives daily.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk later acknowledged the call contained significant sounds but refused to describe them. Norwick has since resigned.

The county did not even acknowledge the existence of the call until nearly a month after Zimmermann's slaying and then only after a report about it appeared in a newspaper.

The call lasted nearly a minute, and Gahagan inquired three times whether an emergency existed. After it was disconnected, Gahagan never called the number back, though the 911 center's policy requires it.

She told her bosses she failed to call Zimmermann back because she moved on "to other 911 calls waiting to be answered."

Police did not arrive at Zimmermann's apartment for more than 40 minutes, after her fiance found the 21-year-old dead and called 911.
Horrible negligence and a despicable cover-up. At best.


AllenS said...

Would the powers that be in Madison be negligent if they failed to give the race of the attacker in an assault? If critical information like that is withheld from the public, would it be considered a cover-up.

Unknown said...

"Gahagan has since been transferred, at her own request, to another department in the county."

Transferred, huh. Rita's not the only county employee who's shrugging.

Anonymous said...

Horrible negligence and a despicable cover-up. At best.

There are even worse cases. Some girl at a Michigan college was raped and murdered and for months the college said it was a SUICIDE.

Later the president of the college was fired, the college was sued and the rapist/murderer was convicted.

rhhardin said...

911 is entirely theater against crime.

Kirk Parker said...


I assume you mean, "Against crime, 911 is entirely theater"?

We certainly get great, timely response to vehicle accidents and medical emergencies via it.

PatCA said...

You mean The State will not take care of us?! rhhardin said it best, it's theater.

A male vagrant chased me up my driveway and tried to get into my house, but it was broad daylight and was scared away by my shouting. I became a believer in Glenn Reynolds' maxim--you're better off with a gun than 911.

Der Hahn said...

After it was disconnected...

Yup, the phone just hung itself up.

Daniel Fielding said...

The college in question is Eastern Michigan Univ , located in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
They EMU administrators first lied about the death,and claimed she died of natural causes, then said it was suicide,and finally after the perp was arrested, admitted, that it was a sexual assault and murder.
The perp was a black EMU student named Orange Taylor. Initially, the admins also tried to lie about the race of both the victim and the perp.

LutherM said...

Someone has been murdered. The 911 responder is partially responsible. Madison attempts to treat the incident as if it never occurred. It does not fire the responder.
What passes for the municipal government shares the responsibility.

This 911 fiasco makes the People's Republic of Madison seems as inefficient and bureaucratically slow-witted as the late Soviet Union.

PatCA said...

That story is so horrible on so many levels...

Dust Bunny Queen said...

If I were to call 911 for the Sheriff (no police, we are rural) to come it would be at least 30 to 45 minutes before they would arrive and that's on a good night.... IF the one car with two guys that are on duty at night just happened to not be on another call and happened to be at the sub station.

Needless to say. I rely on my pump action 12 guage shotgun FIRST for security and 911 as a second thought.

Sofa King said...

Daryl said...

Hey, I know, let's put the government in charge of healthcare and manufacturing cars.

Let's raise the tax rates and double the number of government employees.

AllenS said...

Good news. Nobody was shot in Madison in the last month.

Bad news.

At approximately 11:10 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 3, a 20-year-old UW-Madison sorority member reported to Madison Police that she had been robbed at gunpoint while walking in a parking lot near her residence on the 100 block of Langdon Street. The victim says two men approached her, and one of them pointed a gun at her. They demanded money, and got away with cash and her laptop computer. She was otherwise unharmed. The first suspect is described as a male, black, early to mid 20s, 5'10", large build, wearing a black sweatshirt with hood up, and dark pants. The second suspect is described as a male, black, 18-20 years old, 5'6", average build, small to medium size Afro style hair, wearing a black zip-up hooded sweatshirt, and dark pants. It is not known if the two suspects in this incident are connected to other recent robberies in the city and campus area.

tomthesubmariner said...

Raises an old memory.

About 15 years ago I had a situation.

My wife and our dachshund played a lot by making a lot of noise, yelling, barking, etc.

One Sunday morning I was upstairs shaving, I believe, and heard a lot of commotion coming from below. I thought little of it since I heard it all the time.

I finished shaving and went down the stairs. In the kitchen I found my wife on the floor having suffered a nasty slice to a finger. She'd been cutting up something. She had been yelling for me and the dog had been barking to add emphasis. I didn't recognize the sound because it seemed to me to be normal play.

I got her to urgent care, she got some stitches and we went home.

Needless to say, that form of play ended.