Judge dismisses suit over botched handling of call

Family of woman killed in 2001 argued that 911 operators could have saved her

March 18, 2006|By ANDREA F. SIEGEL | ANDREA F. SIEGEL,SUN REPORTER

A federal judge in Baltimore dismissed a lawsuit yesterday filed by the family of a murdered pharmacist, ruling that even if Anne Arundel County police dispatchers bungled the emergency call to help her, the county could not be held liable for failing to protect her.

"The judge followed the law as he was bound to do," said Andrew J. Murray, the assistant county attorney who handled the case, calling the Aug. 8, 2001, abduction and slaying of Yvette A. Beakes an "unfortunate tragedy."

The 15-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis comes less than two weeks after the judge heard Murray make the argument that the county had no legal duty to help the 26-year-old pharmacist.

Beakes' family contended that the Glen Burnie resident might have been saved had workers in the county's 911 center properly handled calls from a bystander, who reported the abduction from a pay telephone. The family filed the lawsuit in January 2005.

Beakes family members and their attorney did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

The emergency dispatch center's handling of the reported abduction opened an alarming window on its operation. It led to the firing of two dispatchers - though one later was hired in another county job - and resulted in the police chief blaming "human error" while union officials blamed 911 software glitches.

Yesterday, county police maintained their silence on the case.

The judge noted that Maryland bars lawsuits against 911 dispatchers for mistakes.

"While the matter can be debated, the Maryland courts have decided not to permit such suits although, inevitably, there will be unfortunate victims whose injuries could have been avoided by competent police action left without a practical remedy," Garbis wrote.

The 911 center noted a call from a pay phone near the abduction site, but the caller hung up. Moments later a woman called back to report a car crash and assault - and described the vehicles.

Police sent to investigate the hang-up call were not told about the second call, according to the police probe. Authorities said the second call might have helped police find Beakes, who was being driven around to withdraw cash from ATMs.

Beakes' family contended in the lawsuit that the officer sent to the pay phone found nothing wrong and the call was closed out. But the person taking the second call told the witness to return to the abduction site, the family maintained. Garbis called the family's theory that the witness would have investigated for herself or have tried to get other help "patently unsound."

Four Baltimore residents were convicted in what officials called a nightmarish crime. Authorities said the oldest, Jamal Barnes, then 23, recruited three teen-agers and hatched a plan to stage a minor crash as a ruse for getting the money he needed to cover up a previous crime.

Authorities said the four followed Beakes in their van when she left Pickles Pub near Camden Yards in Baltimore and rammed it into her car near the entrance to her Glen Burnie community. When she got out to inspect the damage, Larry Walker Jr., 16, in a ski mask and wielding a semiautomatic handgun, forced her into the van, where she was tied up, Baltimore prosecutors said.

Brian Wilson, 15, took her car, and the group withdrew cash from Beakes' account at several ATMs. Three of them - Brian McMillan, 18, was dropped off along the way - took her to Southwest Baltimore, where Wilson turned up the radio volume to mask the sound of Barnes fatally shooting the blindfolded woman, authorities said.

In a deal to avoid a possible death sentence, Barnes pleaded guilty to a federal carjacking charge and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Wilson pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges. He was sentenced to life with all but 35 years suspended. McMillan and Walker pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other felonies. They were sentenced to life with all but 45 years suspended.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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