Mayor: Cops, dispatchers 'wrong' in Kyle Plush death case

Mayor says cops, dispatchers were 'wrong' in Kyle Plush death case
Published: May. 27, 2018 at 11:21 PM EDT|Updated: May. 30, 2018 at 7:35 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - For the first time, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is criticizing the dispatchers who took Kyle Plush's two 911 phones calls as he pleaded for help after becoming trapped in his mini-van and the police officers who responded to his school to search for him.

"It's wrong; Call, dispatchers and officers all wrong. Let's not sugarcoat this," Cranley said Tuesday after City Council received more details on the investigation into the 16-year-old's death.

"It doesn't mean people got up that day meaning to do something wrong. We have to create a culture of continuous improvement."

The mayor's comments came during the second of two public meetings of Council's Law and Public Safety Committee about the findings of Cincinnati Police Department's investigation into Kyle's April 10 death.

The 16-year-old was asphyxiated when he became trapped underneath a third-row, rear seat in a Honda Odyssey minivan in a parking lot at Seven Hills School in Madisonville.

Before he died, he desperately called 911 by yelling out for Suri to dial for him on his cell phone, which was in his pocket.

His first 911 call was heard by a dispatcher, but she only relayed some information on it to police were sent to search for him. His second 911 call was not heard at all by another dispatcher - and it was on that call that the teen gave details about his location and vehicle.

The first time Police Chief Eliot Isaac released the death investigation findings, Kyle's father, Ron Plush, and City Council members were left with more questions than answers.

Council agreed to look having an outside independent investigation of the Kyle Plush death case. The are expected to receive cost proposals to pay for it soon.

The mayor also directed police and city officials to provide written responses to Ron Plush's 36 questions and report back Tuesday.

This time, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney addressed the board as Isaac sat beside him.

"We owe it to the general public and to the Plush family to get this right," Duhaney said in opening remarks.

He then went on to reveal for the first time a key point in the death investigation: 911 dispatchers had the approximate longitude and latitude coordinates within 5 to 10 feet of the van Kyle Plush was trapped in, but that information was not given to the police officers who were trying to find him.

Officers were given the approximate mapping location through an address, but the parking lot at Seven Hills School was crowded at dismissal time and did not indicate an emergency situation, Duhaney said.

The city is now upgrading the mapping system in police cars to help officers get a more accurate location of callers, he said.

Kyle's mother, Jill Plush, sat in the first row of council chambers listening, along with her husband. It was the first Council meeting she has attended since her son's death, and the couple held hands.

Ron Plush told the committee that he listened to his son's calls to 911 for the first time Tuesday morning before the meeting. He was the one who finally found his son, still trapped in the minivan, when he went to the school to look for him after five hours after Kyle called 911.

"My intent was not to listen to Kyle's two 911 calls," he said, "as we went through this process, I realized I could not move forward without listening."

Tuesday's meeting provided answers to the questions submitted by the Plush family back on May 14, but it also raised more questions city officials were unable to answer.

That includes whether the dispatcher who took Kyle's first 911 call, Stephanie Magee, could hear him. It was on that call that Kyle is heard yelling and kicking.

Ron Plush said Tuesday that Magee asked other dispatchers to listen to an immediate, recorded playback of Kyle's first call. Then he wanted to know if the recorded call those dispatchers heard were the same calls that he listened to.

Among other revelations Duhaney made Tuesday:

  • Video doesn't show anyone entering the parking lot where Kyle's body was eventually found inside the van about five hours later, when his father went to the school lot and discovered his son.
  • There is no standard protocol for police to get out of the car when searching for someone stuck in a vehicle. The expectation is they will leave the car and look.
  • The 911 system had "connectivity" issues on April 10. If those hadn't occurred, the second 911 dispatcher would have known all the information the first dispatcher heard. But dispatcher Amber Smith's computer assisted dispatch system, or CAD) "froze."
  • She submitted a ticket documenting tech trouble within 15 minutes of receiving the call
  • All 911 tech equipment is undergoing checks to make sure it works.
  • IT staff is there to help when system fails via regular business hours during the week and on call after hours and weekends
  • Dispatchers will now be required to re-listen to calls from the same number and check the volume on their system
  • The second 911 caller used a system called TTY when she thought the caller (Kyle) was hearing impaired
  • If the first 911 caller had turned up her volume she might have heard Kyle's screams for help and pounding and conveyed that to the police officers on scene

Kyle's father addressed Council once Duhaney finished, saying the answers to his questions have raised even more.

What happened to his son, he said, cannot happen to another family.

Kyle should have called his parents instead of 911 for help, he said, and then his parents could have called 911 for him.

The teen would have been taken to Cincinnati Children's Hospital to be evaluated and they would have told him how proud they were of him and how well he handled the situation.

Ron Plush thanked the police chief for getting answers to his questions but urged him to make sure he is looking at the situation fairly.

"We need to make sure we are taking the subjectivity out of the emergency response and include more objectivity."

Plush presented a PowerPoint to council members, highlighting his thoughts on the investigations, questions he had, and concerns about questions left unanswered.

Here is the entire PowerPoint Ron Plush showed at Tuesday's meeting:

Ron Plush already has launched his own probe, saying Tuesday all failures need to be identified.

He said he reviewed the body cam video from police and drove the route the officers did when they responded to the school.

And he has determined there are eight minutes between when the officers shut off their body cameras and the school surveillance cameras picked them up.

He has more questions:

  • Where those officers were during that time
  • Why the officers were on the east side of Red Bank Road when they were dispatched to the west side
  • Why wasn't the CAD updated to reflect that Kyle said 'Help me I'm going to die."
  • Would that have prompted the next level of response?
  • Did officers respond according to a "Code 2," which is what his son's 911 calls were logged at. That is right below a all for an officer-involved shooting in terms of severity, he said.
  • Why are dispatchers working 16-hour shifts? Is that common practice or exception to rule?

Here's a full list of Ron Plush's questions from Tuesday's meeting:

Plush also said he did not realize that dispatcher Amber Smith was working a 16-hour day. Plush expressed concerns about the length of the shift which were echoed by other council members wanting to know if this was common practice or the exception to the rule.

"I ask Chief Isaac and council to be accountable for everything that's in that report," he said, referring to the police investigation and now answers to his questions.

After Ron Plush finished speaking, the mayor called for "moral clarity" around the city's failure to save Kyle.

Cranley also urged police and city administrators not to take offense that the Plush family is questioning the police internal investigation.

"It shouldn't take a grieving parent to teach us how to ask questions, thankfully we will have a chance to get it right." Cranley said.

Cincinnati Police Sgt. Dan Hils, president of the police union, disagreed with Cranley's criticism of the officers and dispatchers.

"There is a huge gap between the dispatch information cops received and the reality of the situation.  Their response was reasonable and consistent with the information they received.  The officers didn't know Kyle was dying, by no fault of their own." Hils said.

Councilwoman Amy Murray said she saw a dispatcher's CAD system freeze when she was in the 911 center working a shift as she tried to learn more about how it operates. She asked when that would be addressed and what is causing it.

Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld was emotional: "Following an unthinkable tragedy, the response from the (Plush) family has been miraculous."

He gave city and police officials a June 11 deadline to begin implementing correctives: "What's going to be coming and when?"

Sittenfeld also questioned Duhaney about the details officers were given about the color of the minivan and Kyle's name through his voicemail.

Duhaney said he can't be sure officers ever listened to Kyle's voicemail.

He said he would have an answer on June 11.

As the meeting neared conclusion, the police chief conceded: "There were multiple breakdowns on this call."

Smitherman then brought up a 'recent incident' where a person was trapped in the Ohio River saying that it took help from bystanders for police to find the person.

He said the city could have had another situation like the Kyle Plush case happen again.

Here is the full report released to council members and the Plush family:

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