Help Delayed Girl's Shooting

911 tapes, police logs show 4 minutes passed before cruiser was sent to help mom, daughter who saved her.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Dramatic recordings of two 911 emergency calls and police dispatches show police help was delayed the night 7-year-old Alexis Goggins saved her mother's life by throwing herself in the path of a gunman's rage.

The recordings, obtained by The Detroit News through the Freedom of Information Act, show a 4-minute gap between the first call for help and when a police officer was dispatched.

A city spokesman denied there was any real delay, but a review of transcripts shows that if an officer had been sent right away, he might have arrived minutes before -- instead of after -- the shooting.

"When the police got there, they performed magnificently," said Thomas Campbell, a lawyer appointed by a Wayne County Probate Court judge to manage donations that have poured in from the public for the girl's care. "If they had been given an opportunity to do it earlier, who knows?"

The recordings include two desperate calls for help that end in frustration for a woman trying to stall the would-be gunman who was holding Alexis Goggins and her mother, Selietha Parker, 30, at gunpoint shortly after midnight on Dec. 2, at a gas station on Seven Mile.

Calvin Tillie, 29, is accused of kidnapping the girl, her mother and a friend who had come that night to drive them to a warm home. The furnace at Parker's home stopped working. Tillie is set to undergo an examination for mental competency in 36th District Court on Feb. 14.

"What is taking so long?" Aisha Ford, 29, yelled before being told by the operator that police didn't have a car available to send. After Ford dropped the phone, a gas station attendant picked it up and tried to convey the urgency of the situation when the shooting began.

"Now, now he's shooting," Mohammad Alghazali said over the sounds of screaming in the background. "He shoot her right now. I hear the gun. Oh s---! He shoot the lady too."

After her mother was struck by two bullets, the girl hurled herself into the front seat between her mother and the gunman -- where she was shot six times at point-blank range.

Alexis and her mother survived, but at great cost. The girl lost her right eye and has undergone six surgeries to repair brain damage and reconstruct her shattered arm. She remains at Children's Hospital, but is no longer in life-threatening condition.

James Tate, spokesman for the police, said dispatchers and police handled the case as well as possible.

The city has launched an internal investigation into the operator who took the second call for her "demeanor," Tate said.

"We are talking about minutes and decisions that are made on the fly," Tate said. "I know that minutes count, but there was no lag, no real delay."

A review of the recordings shows the second 911 operator was wrong about the availability of a police officer. One had been dispatched without her knowledge.

But there was a 3-minute gap between the time the first operator promised help was on the way and when a police dispatcher assigned an officer to check on "family trouble" with an armed man at the Fast Stop gas station on Seven Mile at Fenelon Street.

This information comes in the wake of a Detroit 911 emergency operator's Jan. 17 conviction for misdemeanor willful neglect of duty for failing to take action when a 5-year-old called for help for his dying mother.

Operator Sharon Nichols, 43, blamed faulty equipment for being unable to understand young Robert Turner and mistakenly classifying his call as a prank. Officers dispatched to chastise the boy later found his mother, Sherill Turner, 46, dead from a heart attack.

Nichols faces up to a year in jail when sentenced in 36th District Court on March 11.

"Minutes count, and unfortunately, this kind of response has become part of the culture of the city's 911 system," said Ron Scott, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.

He said his office has for years taken hundreds of citizen complaints about 911 calls receiving late or no response.

"There aren't enough police officers to do the job, but more often than not, it's 911 operators making bad decisions that frustrate this community," Scott said. So far, the Alexis Goggins Hero Fund has received about $32,000, Campbell said.

Donations may be made in care of Thomas Campbell at his law firm's address, Fausone & Bohn, Suite 101, 41700 West Six Mile Road, Northville, MI 48618.