SEATTLE — A social worker pleaded with a 911 dispatcher throughout a nearly seven-minute call to quickly get police to Josh Powell’s house after he locked himself inside with his two sons.
It took almost two minutes from the start of the call for the dispatcher to learn Powell’s address and more than three minutes to understand that she was there to supervise a child custody visit. Near the end of the call, she asked how long before officers could get there.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” he said. “We have to respond to emergency life-threatening situations first.”
She responded: “This could be life-threatening … I’m afraid for their lives!”
Authorities said the call could have been handled better, and that it was unfortunate for the dispatcher to leave the social worker with the impression no help was immediately on the way. The agency that runs the call center said it would review the matter and start a disciplinary investigation if necessary.
Still, the recordings raised questions about an emergency response to a custody visit that ended with Powell killing himself and his boys.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said deputies appeared to have been dispatched during the call, and he did not believe the conversation caused unnecessary delays.
“Are we unhappy with the etiquette and the manner? Yes,” Troyer said. “Did it affect the response time? No. Dispatchers are typing information and addresses while they’re on the phone with callers.”
Troyer said his department is waiting for a copy of the “call-and-dispatch” log from the 911 center to see exactly how long it took for deputies to respond.
The details of the emergency calls emerged in audio recordings released by the sheriff’s office late Tuesday. They did not include time stamps, and the call center did not immediately respond to a public records request from The Associated Press for the dispatch log.
The social worker had driven the Powell boys, 5 and 7, from their grandparents’ home to their father’s house on Sunday. Josh Powell had lost custody of the boys last fall, after his father, with whom they lived, was arrested in a child pornography and voyeurism investigation.
When she arrived, the boys ran into the house, and Powell slammed the door in her face, locking it.
She called her supervisor and 911 using her cell phone, reaching the call center in Tacoma about ten miles away from Powell’s house in Puyallup, authorities said.
In the first minutes of her first 911 call, the woman quickly laid out the situation:
“Something really weird has happened. The kids went into the house and the parent — the biological parent — whose name is Josh Powell will not let me in the door. What should I do?