911 Operator Didn’t Tell Pittsburgh Police About Guns

April 7, 2009 - 7:27 AM
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Pittsburgh (AP) - The mother of a man charged with killing three Pittsburgh police officers told a 911 dispatcher he had weapons, but the dispatcher didn't relay that information to officers, the official in charge of county dispatchers says.  
The dispatcher should have asked more questions about the weapons, but didn't, and certainly should have told officers so they could take necessary precautions, Allegheny County Chief of Emergency Services Robert Full told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
 
"There is no excuse. It could have been handled better, without a doubt," Full said in Tuesday's editions.
 
Richard Poplawski's mother, Margaret, had dialed 911 Saturday morning to summon police after threatening to evict him.
 
When officers arrived at the house, she opened the door for them. She later told police that she didn't know that her 23-year-old son was standing behind her with a rifle. He shot officer Paul Sciullo II, 37, in the home and officer Stephen Mayhle, 29, on the front stoop within seconds of their arrival, and then shot officer Eric Kelly, 41, in the street as he arrived to back them up, prompting a four-hour siege and gun battle with police, authorities said.
 
Poplawski was wearing a bulletproof vest and was armed with a variety of weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle, authorities said.
 
He is also accused of firing into two neighboring homes, injuring nobody, and at nine other police officers, including one who was wounded as he tended to Kelly.
 
Poplawski's public defender has declined to discuss the case. He is being held without bond and faces an April 17 preliminary hearing on criminal homicide, attempted homicide and other charges.
 
Full said the dispatcher, who has been on the job less than a year, is on paid administrative leave and is receiving counseling.
 
In a recording of the call that county officials played for the newspaper, Margaret Poplawski sounded impatient as she called 911 at about 7 a.m. and asked for police to come take her son out of the house.
 
"Are you moving or what? Or the police gotta come?" she asks.
 
"Does he have any weapons or anything?" the dispatcher asked.
 
"Yes," the mother said. After a long pause, she added, "They're all legal."
 
"OK, but he's not threatening you with anything?" the dispatcher said.
 
Without answering, Margaret Poplawski mother said, "Look, I'm just waking up from a sleep. I want him gone."
 
"OK, we'll send 'em over, OK?" the dispatcher said.
 
"Sounds good," the mother said, as the call ends.
 
Police union president James Malloy said officers would have responded differently had they known Poplawski had weapons.
 
"You approach the house with a different attitude. You approach the house from a distance," said Malloy, a retired police sergeant. "You park your car a distance from the house so you can hit the dirt."
 
The officers will lie in state at the City-County Building downtown on Wednesday before all three will be honored at a memorial service at the Petersen Events Center on the University of Pittsburgh campus on Thursday. The 12,000-seat basketball arena was chosen because authorities expect police and other dignitaries from around the country to attend.
 
As the city mourned, new information emerged about the suspect from his Internet postings.
 
Internet rantings found on a white supremacist Web site, Stormfront.org, indicate Poplawski was preoccupied with the idea that President Barack Obama was going to overturn the Second Amendment and that Jews were secretly running the country.
 
He posted a shirtless picture of himself showing off a large tattoo of a spread-winged eagle below his collarbone.
 
Postings made by others on the extremist Web site after the Pittsburgh shooting encourage people to buy assault rifles because they suspect the arms will be banned after a string of mass shootings in the past month, including one in Oakland, Calif., where four officers were killed and another in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday when a gunman killed 13 people before killing himself.