(SALT LAKE CITY) — A woman in Utah has filed a civil lawsuit against a 911 dispatch company claiming that her and her sister’s frantic and urgent calls for help as they were being beaten by an intruder during a home invasion failed to send police to their home.
In court papers filed in Salt Lake County, Breann Lasley of Salt Lake City is suing the Utah emergency dispatch company Priority Dispatch Corp. for “gross negligence” and accusing the company of creating “a technological monster.”
Breann Lasley and her sister Kayli Lasley were “attacked, stabbed and nearly beaten” in their Salt Lake City home on Sept. 23, 2015, by a man who’d entered their home around midnight through a window.
Breann Lasley said in an interview with ABC News in October 2015 that she was sending a text message that night when she heard a man say, “Hey girl, I’m coming in,” through her partially open window.
“He said, ‘Cooperate with me,'” she said at the time.
“You’re not going to get what you want out of this situation,” she said she’d told him.
Breann Lasley fought the man — whom Salt Lake City authorities identified as 48-year-old Robert Berger — as her sister slept downstairs. Although Breann Lasley told ABC News that she’d had hoped to keep the man from finding Kayli Lasley, her sister heard the screams and ran upstairs to help.
“I knew from her screams. … I knew it was something terrible,” Kayli Lasley told ABC News in October 2015.
The women said that in 2015, they struggled against Berger for 15 minutes but had managed to call 911 and yell out their address to the dispatcher. Several neighbors also called the emergency service.
During the struggle with the sisters, Berger allegedly pulled out a knife and stabbed Breann Lasley in the abdomen and legs.
Breann Lasley and her sister made four calls to 911, court papers said.
In the first call, Breann Lasley yelled out the address twice “to the operator on the other end of the line” but the call was not dispatched. Because she was yelling and the phone was not at her face, however, there has been discussion about whether the dispatcher could make out that address.
“[Breann Lasley’s] sister called 911 three more times — connecting with an operator each time — during the violent home invasion, each time desperately pleading and screaming, ‘Help us, please! Help us, he’s going to kill us. Help us, please!’ Not one of those three phone calls were dispatched,” court papers said.
“I’ll give you anything you want! What do you want?” Kayli Lasley can be heard asking Berger in one of her 911 calls.
“Hello?” the dispatcher says.
“He’s stabbing my sister! He’s stabbing her!” Kayli Lasley could be heard screaming during a call.
“Instead of dispatching the calls and sending the police, the 911 dispatchers — using defendant Priority Dispatch Corp.’s rigid software dispatch system known as Police ProQA — were required to interrogate Bre[ann] and her sister by asking a series of scripted prompts and pre-determined questions before police could be dispatched,” court documents said.
Breann Lasley told ABC News on Thursday how it felt to learn that their calls had not been dispatched.
“I was physically ill and angry and also just confused,” she said. “But to be able to call 911 and not have help sent is terrible. It’s not just a disservice to the community and puts the community at risk. It literally put my life in danger.”
Her sister was eventually able to escape the house during the attack and get a police officer’s attention outside.
A Salt Lake City police officer who was attending to another house on the street where Berger had allegedly tried to break in earlier heard the sisters’ screams and ran to help. He ordered Berger to stop and drop the knife, before shooting and killing him, according to authorities. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office later ruled in 2015 that the use of force was justified under Utah state law.
“The additional trauma of not being able to trust a 911 call in that type of situation has been life-altering,” Breann Lasley said. “It’s completely changed my life. It’s added…so much trauma and difficulty to the entire situation. It’s been a fight in and of itself that I’ve been fighting for years.”
Salt Lake City 911 communications bureau director Lisa Burnette said in a statement to KUTV-TV that police had “arrived within minutes and took control of the scene.”
“Just after midnight, dispatch received a call from a resident whose home was broken into at 838 S. Robert St,” Burnette said. “Within three minutes, Salt Lake City Police Department officers were dispatched to the burglary (that) just occurred. Shortly after dispatching police units, phone calls were received that gave the call-takers information that there was another event occurring near the original address on Robert Street. Information relating to these events were given to responding officers.”
In a statement to ABC News on Friday, Priority Dispatch said of the software used by dispatchers: “We all recognize this was a very unfortunate situation. At the same time, our system does not dispatch police officers, nor can it.
“From our review of the 911 calls, it is apparent our system was never used. The rule we have is, ‘When in doubt, send them out.’ Unfortunately, in this situation, our system was never opened or used because they could not determine an address.
“It’s clear from the call audios that none of the questions or life-saving instructions from our protocols were ever used in any of the calls. If the call had proceeded to the point that our system would have been used, the system would have immediately recommended an officer be dispatched to the scene without any questions being asked at all, and would have automatically generated the highest case description information possible, ‘Caller in Imminent Danger,’ to any responding officers.”
Ron McDaniel, president of Priority Dispatch, said the problem was authorities’ inability to locate victims. He spoke during a news conference on Friday held by Priority Dispatch to address the Lasley lawsuit. During the news conference, Priority Dispatch detailed that its system was activated as a third stage of a 911 call, after a dispatcher had made contact with a caller as well as a “computer-aided dispatch.”
“This is a national problem,” McDaniel said on Friday. “In 911, we don’t know where you are on literally 70 to 80 percent of the calls that happen. That’s the breakdown in this case. It’s tragic. We feel for it but we do need to make sure that the focus is on the right part here, which is the inability to find the patient and/or the victim to help give them the help that they needed.”
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