Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Failure to Respond to Murder/Suicide Costs Lives

The Albuquerque Police Department's failure to respond to repeated calls that a pregnant woman was in danger at the hands of her boyfriend - an incident that ended with him killing her and himself - already led Alburquerque Police Department to make significant changes.

Now it will cost the department $685,000, as well.
City attorneys confirmed Monday they have reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the family of Randi Regensberg, a 21-year-old woman who was killed in a murder-suicide by her estranged boyfriend, Cory Kotrba, in 2006.

Friends of Regensberg had called 911 five times to report that she was in danger at the hands of Kotrba, who was a Los Alamos County firefighter. It took police more than an hour and a half to respond, which occurred after both were dead.
Those friends had also tried to get help from an off-duty Albuquerque police officer, Hector Chavez, who lived nearby and refused to render aid.
"This was tragic," said Albuquerque deputy city attorney Kathy Levy. "We are just glad it is resolved. We have heartfelt feelings for the family. Their loss was tragic and we have all felt it."
In the wake of the tragedy, APD put in place different work schedules, a new dispatch system and different rules for what constitutes a priority call. In addition, Chavez was disciplined and a dispatcher resigned.

Robert Rothstein, who represented Regensberg's family, said his clients were comforted that APD has made changes.
"The family is satisfied that they effected some significant changes in the way the system works," Rothstein said. "There is some sense of satisfaction that their daughter's death and their grandchild's death wasn't entirely in vain."

On July 7, 2006, Regensberg's friends called 911 and reported that a neighbor had seen Regensberg dragged into Kotrba's home.
They told dispatchers that the back door was blocked by a table, adding that Kotrba had guns and that Regensberg, who was six months' pregnant, was being held against her will. Friends also told dispatchers there was a history of violence between the two.
But dispatchers kept telling the friends no officers were available to take the call, which wasn't classified top priority, police have said.
While the friends kept calling 911 from the outside of the home, one of them noticed a police car parked in the driveway just a few blocks away and knocked on the door.
The police officer, Chavez, who was also named in the family's lawsuit, told the female friend there was nothing he could do because he was off duty. He also refused to make a phone call to 911 to have an officer sent out sooner, the family's lawsuit claimed.
Police went to Kotrba's home in the 7700 block of Javelina SW only after the fifth call - and after Kotrba's roommate had arrived and allowed the friends inside where they found the couple dead.
The first call was placed at 7:51 p.m., the last one at 9:29 p.m., according to police records.
The Regensberg case has been used as a training tool and is brought up at nearly every academy class, police officials said.
Police Chief Ray Schultz said his entire department knows the name "Randi Regensberg."
"This incident is never really going to be behind us," Schultz said Monday. "There are certain cases that everybody in the department knows about that send a very strong message in the organization about what could happen when things go wrong, and this is one of them."
The changes include:
* Altering the department's work schedules from four 10-hour days to five eight-hour days, a move that has upset many officers. But APD says response times have improved.
* Installing a new computer-aided dispatch system that allows supervisors to see how calls are being handled.
* Writing new policies on how calls are prioritized.
* Requiring dispatchers to broadcast on police radio frequencies whenever calls are holding.
Under state law, the maximum a jury could have awarded the Regensberg family is $750,000 because the city is publicly funded. The award will be paid out of the city's Risk Management fund.
The city of Albuquerque has a "no settlement" policy on suits filed alleging police misconduct.
Levy said the policy didn't apply in this case since the suit was not alleging excessive force and it dealt with systematic issues.
Levy noted that under the settlement, the city is not admitting liability.

Even if Albuquerque police had responded immediately to the first 911 call about a domestic violence incident Friday, they say it would have been too late to save Randi Regensberg's life.
Still, the Police Department is changing the way it prioritizes calls that come from secondhand sources regarding a violent situation, police spokeswoman Trish Hoffman said Tuesday.
Hoffman spoke about the policy change as the department released a series of 911 calls regarding the apparent murder-suicide at the home of Regensberg's ex-boyfriend, Cory Kotrba, at 7716 Javelina Road S.W.
Police believe Kotrba, 28, shot 21-year-old Regensberg, who was six months pregnant with his child, shortly after the two arrived at Kotrba's home at 6 p.m. Friday.
Both bodies were found around 9:30 p.m. - 1 hours after the first 911 call was placed by Regensberg's friend, a woman identified as Christine, 21.
That call and three others were assigned priority level two, not top level one, because they weren't firsthand information about an assault, Hoffman said.
Today, all four calls made before the final call, in which Christine reported finding both bodies, would be categorized as priority one and put first in line for response, Hoffman said.
But Hoffman said the first 911 call Friday didn't come in until 7:55 p.m., almost two hours after forensic examiners believe Kotrba shot Regensberg before turning the gun on himself.
Hoffman said she doesn't remember a similar situation in the recent past.
The series of calls went this way, according to the recordings released Tuesday:
• 7:51 p.m.: A man named Elias, identified as another ex-boyfriend of Regensberg's, arrives at Kotrba's home after Christine tells him to come over. Neighbors tell him they saw Kotrba drag Regensberg inside the home. Elias reports this in the first call to 911.
• 8:12 p.m.: Christine calls 911 again, telling the dispatcher Kotrba owns a gun. She says the two have been inside for two hours.
• 8:30 p.m.: "It's been a while since I've called in," Elias reports. He also says that a table barricades the back door, and there are no lights on inside the home.
The dispatcher tells him it's been a busy night.
"I'm a volunteer fireman. I understand how that goes," Elias says.
• 9:11 p.m.: Christine calls from outside the house, saying her friend is "being held against her will," and tells dispatchers Regensberg is pregnant. Dispatchers tell Christine her call is the next in line for dispatching.
• 9:28 p.m.: Christine has been let into the house by Kotrba's roommate, identified as Gilbert. Crying, she tells the dispatcher she has found both bodies, shot to death

(Source: Albuquerque Journal and Tribune)

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