911 system faulted in report of assault

Man complains of delay by police as confrontation with youths leads to fight

Harford County

April 13, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

When Dennis Shifflett of Forest Hill dialed 911 on his cell phone, he expected help quickly, but it took police 22 minutes after his first call to arrive, he said.

Shifflett, 53, an executive in an investment firm, and three youths were in a confrontation that led to a fight at a shopping center on Route 24 and Rock Spring Road.

"Something doesn't seem right," he said, adding that he doesn't understand why it took police so long to get to the scene.

Shifflett said he is concerned about the efficiency of the 911 system.

"This needs to be addressed immediately. The citizens of Harford County expect a certain level of efficiency," he said.

Phone calls were made to 911 by him, his wife, Sharon, and Coldwell Banker agents who work across the street from the scene, he said. Harford County sheriff's deputies and state police eventually arrived.

Afterward, Shifflett made a complaint to Harford County Emergency Operations Center.

Ernie Crist, manager of the Harford County Division of Emergency Operations, said Shifflett's first call was categorized as not high priority. When the situation escalated and another call was made, the situation was upgraded to a high priority, and police arrived within three minutes, he said.

Crist said Shifflett's case is under review because of his complaint. Authorities are checking to make sure his call was properly categorized and characterized. They are also investigating why Shifflett's call appeared to come initially to the Bel Air Police Department, rather than to the Emergency Operations Center, and whether his call was processed properly.

Norman Ross, deputy chief of the Bel Air Police Department, said he doesn't know how Shifflett's phone call ended up there. "To my knowledge, it has never happened before," he said.

He said the Bel Air Police Department is working with the Emergency Operations Center to review the logs and piece together what happened that day.

Crist said some people expect that when they call 911, help will be sent immediately. But "you can't send people to calls all the time," he said. "It also depends on priority and availability of law enforcement."

Shifflett says the system let him down when he called for help.

His problems began in September when his son, Bradley, brought home a new 14-year-old friend to play video games.

At first, Shifflett didn't pay much attention to the youth, but when he learned that the boy was not attending school and was homeless, he and his wife grew concerned. They let the youth stay for a couple of days, then notified police and asked him not to return.

"Six months ago, we let this boy in our house, and now we are paying the price," Shifflett said.

On March 27, a group of youths entered the Shifflett home, and items worth $1,200 were taken, Shifflett said. Shifflett's son was home and says he recognized some of them, including the 14-year-old acquaintance. Shifflett filed a police report. Police investigated but found no suspects.

Two days later, Shifflett took matters into his own hands and tried to locate the youths. He said he asked around the neighborhood and found some girls who knew where they were. He was told that they were on foot near a gas station by Rock Spring Road and Route 24.

"When the police would get there, I wanted to be able to point" out the boy, he said. "I didn't go there for a confrontation. I was there so police could come and I could identify the people."

On his way to the gas station, he called 911 to notify police that he had found the youths, but when he arrived, the youths were not there. Shifflett walked around the area and spotted a group of them.

"We came within 3 feet of one another," he said.

Threats and taunts ensued. Shifflett said he did not back down and warned them that the police were on their way.

He said he stepped away and dialed 911 again, but the call didn't go through. Finally, he called home and told his daughter to call police and that he had found the youths.

Soon after, his wife began calling 911 as well. "They told me they had no one to send," she said. "I never imagined they would tell you that."

The 14-year-old had left, but three youths surrounded Shifflett and the fight ensued, he said. Twenty-two minutes after his first call to 911 and seven calls later, deputies and state police arrived. No one was injured, and no arrests were made. The 14-year-old was found nearby, taken into custody and released.

On April 2, Shifflett filed misdemeanor assault charges against Terry Keith Epps Jr., 20, and Stephan Epps, 20, both of Edgewood, according to District Court records.

They are not charged in the theft from Shifflett's home.

Timeline of events March 29

1:32 p.m.: Dennis Shifflett's first phone to 911 comes to the Bel Air Police Department. Shifflett tells the dispatcher he is in pursuit of youths near an Exxon gas station.

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