February 9, 2012 in City

911 call taker broke protocol with homicide-related call

Mishandling prompts review of center’s procedures
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane county officials said an investigation into the December homicide of a Deer Park woman revealed a call to the 911 communications center from the victim’s cellphone was not forwarded to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for investigation, a breach of protocol that has prompted a review of the center’s procedures.

The call was handled by a longtime 911 call taker, according to a Spokane County 911 Communications news release. When the center received a hang-up call from Chanin Starbuck’s cellphone, the call taker should have followed up and called back twice and forwarded the information to the Sheriff’s Office.

However, the call taker, who was not identified, only tried to call back once, the news release said, and the information was never given to authorities to investigate.

The body of Chanin Starbuck, who had been strangled, was found Dec. 3 at her rental home at 509 N. Reiper St. Police have accused her ex-husband, Clay Duane Starbuck, 47, of the homicide; he is in the Spokane County Jail and faces aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree burglary charges.

Lorlee Mizell, 911 director for Spokane County, said her office learned of the mishandled call while making “evidential recordings” for detectives.

The detective who reviewed the 911 call determined there was a “short high-pitched guttural sound of a female followed by rustling noise consistent with a struggle in the three seconds before the 911 call taker answered the phone,” sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Craig Chamberlin said in a news release. The system begins recording calls immediately, even if a call taker has not picked up the call.

Mizell said she believes the incident was isolated; the call taker was not fired.

“This is a 17-year veteran with an absolutely exemplary record with us, and quite frankly this was addressed through the lowest level possible in the discipline process,” she said.

In the wake of the error, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich on Wednesday asked Mizell to review the agency’s hang-up call procedures. Spokane County 911 is a separate organization from the Sheriff’s Office and links citizens in need of help with the Sheriff’s Office and other public safety agencies in the county.

“911’s responsibility to provide this critical information is a vital link to ensuring a safer Spokane community,” Knezovich said in the news release.

All call takers and supervisors will receive a hang-up call refresher on Monday, and the issue will be addressed again at an upcoming supervisors’ meeting, Mizell said. A third session on how to handle hang-up calls will be held at the next monthly training meeting.

Starbuck’s 911 call was what is called a Phase 2 call, meaning the 911 center was automatically given her latitude and longitude.

The 911 center received more than 1,700 hang-up calls in January, the news release said.


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