Unanswered 911 Calls Delayed Response to Dallas Westin Galleria Homicide

Victim identified at 56-year-old Richard Hill

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Dallas police and fire officials issued new information Wednesday about the Sunday morning homicide at the Westin Galleria Hotel and 911 calls from the hotel that went unanswered.

It turns out 55 minutes separated the time of the first unanswered 911 call and the arrival of paramedics on the scene. Police officials confirmed there was initial confusion about the location of that victim outside that hotel that further delayed paramedics.

Alex Del Carmen is a criminal justice expert at Tarleton State University.

"We know from medical science and social research in the past 30, 40 years that every second counts," Del Carmen said.

The victim was identified Wednesday as 56-year-old Robert Hill.

Police said 10 call takers were on duty early Sunday morning, four had called in sick and there were hundreds of 911 calls during the period of time that 3 calls went unanswered from the Westin Galleria front desk.

Dallas has a history of 911 problems, including difficulty hiring enough 911 operators.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a statement about the new problems.

“It is beyond frustrating to hear that we are once again short-staffed in the 911 call center, which is mission critical for the City of Dallas. We need to get our priorities straight. Public safety must come first. While I understand the police department is taking and exploring steps to shore up the call center, including the use of police officer overtime, this has become a chronic issue that must be reviewed and addressed as quickly as possible by the city manager and the City Council. I won’t be the first mayor to say this should never happen again, but I need to be the last,” Johnson's statement said.

According to a police press release Sunday, it was 2:47 a.m. when officers first responded to the report of men in one vehicle shooting at a man in another vehicle in the hotel parking lot. But when the officers arrived, police said on Wednesday that officers found only property damage at the hotel entrance and ambulances were canceled.

Dallas Fire-Rescue Spokesman Jason Evans said Wednesday that two ambulances were dispatched for the report of a gun shot wound at 2:48 a.m. Both units staged per DFR procedure waiting for police at 2:54 a.m. but cleared the scene at 2:57 a.m. after being canceled by police. The ambulances were called back at 3:03 a.m. when police had evidently found the victim. The ambulances arrived at 3:08am. The police press release said the victim was located near bushes in the parking lot.

Dallas leaders were seeking answers Tuesday about the police response to a murder at the Westin Galleria Hotel early Sunday morning.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata, who is also a police patrol sergeant, said police are urged to return unused ambulances to service quickly.

"When they’re at our call that we don’t need them and we don’t disregard them, then that’s even longer that it takes that ambulance to go to another call where they are needed," Mata said.

Video recorded at the scene well after 3 a.m. shows a paramedic performing CPR on a victim in an ambulance. The man was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police provided details on Tuesday about the three 911 calls from the Westin that were not answered Sunday morning.

At 2:13 a.m. the caller hung up after 35 seconds with no answer.  At 2:17 a.m. the caller hung up after two minutes and 23 seconds with no answer.  At 2:36 a.m., the caller hung up after three minutes and 11 seconds, after still receiving no answer.

"It’s completely unacceptable. With today’s standards and today’s technology, it is not acceptable for a 911 system to not respond within a few seconds of receiving a call," Del Carmen said.

Dallas City Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn is a member of the Council’s Public Safety Committee which focuses on 911 issues.

“Yes, that's a very long time. Our goal is to have calls answered within 10 seconds. So, our service level expectation is that 90% of the calls will be answered within 10 seconds,” Mendelsohn said. “This is, you know, not what we expect. And we need to find out what happened.”

In a text message Tuesday, Public Safety Chairman Adam McGough confirmed that he is asking the same questions of city officials.

“And we have discussed briefing our committee on public safety. I will need to direct questions to management at this point till they give me details,” the text message said.

A police press release late Tuesday night said the 911 call center had been divided into two locations in March to promote social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19. The police department has been working to find qualified people willing to serve as call takers. People within the department have been reassigned to 911 and 14 new call takers are being hired.

"It’s not how we should be serving the public. We have to do better and I believe the department is trying to do better. It’s just very difficult in the times we are in to get it done," Mata said.

A $5,000 reward is available for information that leads to an arrest in this case. People with information were asked to contact Detective White in the Homicide Unit at 214-283-4825 or jacob.white@dallascityhall.com.

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