Miscommunication blamed for slow response to attack

911 tapes reveal chaotic scene where dog bit girl, 7

September 26, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

Authorities are blaming miscommunication between police officers and an emergency dispatcher for sending an ambulance to the wrong address after Friday's pit bull attack on a young girl in Southwest Baltimore. As a result, paramedics didn't arrive at the scene until 18 minutes after they were first dispatched.

By that time, a city sheriff's deputy had shot and killed the dog, and 7-year-old Kayla Mitchell lay bleeding on the street as police officers and onlookers made frantic calls to 911 seeking an ambulance, which had been dispatched to the 1800 block of Ramsay St. instead of the 1400 block, where the attack occurred.

Kayla was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital and released Sunday morning. But it took an inordinate amount of time to get her there. More than 15 minutes after the girl was bitten and with police swarming the scene, her mother, Brenda, called 911.

"My kid got bit by a dog, we called 15 minutes ago, 20 minutes, [paramedics] haven't got here yet," she said, according to tapes released by the Police Department yesterday.

"How old is your child?" the operator asked.

"She is 7 years old," the mother answered.

"Is she breathing?" the operator said.

"Sooner or later, she won't be," the mother answered. "You've got my kid laying in the middle of the street. Will you send an ambulance?"

Moments later, a police officer radioed a dispatcher: "Can you do me a favor, could you call the Fire Department and ask them what's the holdup?"

Sterling Clifford, a Police Department spokesman, attributed the delay to "human error" during what the 911 tapes show was a chaotic scene with police officers trying to get help and civilians flooding the dispatch center with sometimes inaccurate or vague information. Some of the addresses given were wrong; others gave cross streets that weren't in the correct location.

Clifford said that at one point dispatchers thought they had two separate incidents four blocks apart on the same street. Officers called for help to control an angry crowd, and after a sheriff's deputy shot the dog, one resident called 911 to report a shooting, adding to the chaos.

One civilian reported that she thought she saw a little boy being attacked by a dog in the 1800 block of Ramsay St. - the wrong location.

During one hectic moment, a dispatcher got on the radio and said firmly: "OK, I need everyone to listen to me right now. ... I understand that we have a very large crowd at 1400 Ramsey. ... I need any unit at 1400 Ramsey to answer one question: Is it confirmed that [a sheriff's deputy] discharged his weapon for the dog?"

Chief Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman, said his agency might review the incident to see if revisions need to be made when fire crews are dispatched based on police requests.

"Anytime something like this happens, of course, it warrants more scrutiny and identifying any pitfalls in the system, whether it's human error or mechanical error," Cartwright said. "It all comes back to having citizens get the assistance that they need in a timely fashion."

Yesterday, Vickie Ogden, the victim's grandmother, said Kayla was feeling better.

Friday's incident began shortly after 9 p.m. as two sheriff's deputies patrolling the neighborhood spotted the girl in trouble and rushed to help. They saw several people swinging sticks and poles at a dog that was biting the girl. The deputies first tried to pull the dog off the girl and, when that failed, one of them shot the dog several times before it finally collapsed.

Lt. Fred Jackson, a supervisor with the city sheriff's office, said he responded to the attack and oversaw the two deputies who worked to save the girl from the dog. He described the scene as "pretty chaotic," with people trying frantically to save the girl.

"That dog took five shots before it was put down, and all were head shots," Jackson said. He said that other sheriff's deputies and city police officers who responded to back up the deputies all went to the right location, but they were kept waiting for an ambulance for the girl, who had deep gashes in her leg.

"We all got to the right spot. I don't know why the ambulance didn't get there," Jackson said. He said the slow response was surprising; deputies are frequently working in the area, and ambulance response times are usually "excellent," he said.

Fire Department officials have said that their average response time is less than four minutes.

Calls to the city's 911 center are answered by operators who assess the emergency and then route the calls to either police or fire dispatchers.

According to a timeline prepared by city police and fire officials, a police dispatcher first requested that emergency crews respond to the 1800 block of Ramsay St. at 9:12 p.m. for a report of a child with a dog bite.

Paramedics arrived at that address in about five minutes, found nothing and reported the incident as a "false call," the timeline shows.

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