Kristine Kirk murder: Disciplinary proceedings begin over handling of Denver woman's 911 call

DENVER - The dispatcher who handled a domestic violence 911 call that ended in the shooting death of Kristine Kirk now faces disciplinary proceedings.

The Denver Department of Public Safety and the police department answered questions Friday about the findings of the investigation, which was ordered by Denver Police Chief Robert White.

"The Director of Communications felt there was enough of an issue to begin a proceeding," Denver Police spokesman Lt. Matt Murray said during an afternoon news conference.

"Please note...the Department of Safety has initiated disciplinary proceedings related to the incident, and a [murder] case has been filed with the DA. Therefore, there is little we are able to say at this time," Daelene Mix, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Public Safety, wrote in an email announcement.

That was later clarified to mean that the disciplinary investigation of the dispatcher is being conducted internally. The case filed with the DA is the case against the suspected murderer, Richard Kirk.

"The call was appropriately handled," Murray said. "It was given the appropriate priority, which was a Priority 1, which is an emergency call. Officers responded in an appropriate manner."

Murray also said that, "With the policy changes, there would have been a different response."

On the night of April 14, 44-year-old Kristine Kirk told a 911 operator that her husband had "taken some marijuana and possibly some prescription medication for back pain" before he started "hallucinating" and scaring her and the couple's three young children. She mentioned that there was a gun in the house, but it was secured in a safe.

At one point in the call, Kristine Kirk told the 911 operator to "please hurry" and send officers.

She said "her husband was talking like it was the end of the world … he had asked her to get the gun and to shoot him, and she is scared of what he might do because her three children are in the house with her," case documents say.

The dispatcher advised responding officers that "they do keep a gun in the house, but it’s not in anybody’s possession."

Fourteen minutes, later an officer tells the dispatcher about the 911 operator's call notes he's reading on his patrol car computer.

"According to the notes, he grabbed a gun and she screamed and the line disconnected… step up cover," the officer radioed.

Normally, it's the dispatcher who radios information to patrol officers -- not the other way around.

"Officers were not given verbal information as they were responding to the scene," Murray said. "It's not possible or safe for officers to be driving to a crime and reading a screen. So, even if those updates were coming on a computer screen, it would not be appropriate for officers to get information that way. That’s one of the changes the executive director made, to require that that information be given verbally."

7NEWS has learned that the dispatcher was busy that night dealing with calls from other officers. She was asked to call Aurora police twice, dispatched officers to an area where fireworks and shots were reported. She also dispatched an officer to a traffic accident, and he asked her to make a call back to the reporting party to get more information. Then the officer asks for directions to the location. Another officer calls in and asks for a dinner break.

When asked if the dispatcher was overwhelmed and whether there are enough dispatchers in the Communications Center, Murray replied, "That’s going to be part of what we look at in our internal investigation.  None of that is going to be sacred. We're not trying not to talk about it. We just want to talk about it when it's appropriate."

Murray noted that the investigation into the dispatcher's handling of the call is still ongoing and they don't want to compromise that investigation.

7NEWS shared the recordings with retired police officer Joe Sandoval, who is now a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

"A lot of activity," said Sandoval. "The dispatcher at the time, she had a lot of things she was juggling."

Sandoval agreed the information about the husband grabbing the gun and the wife screaming was crucial information that officers needed to hear as it happened -- not read about on their patrol car computers.

The way it's supposed to work, Sandoval said, is "the police officer in the field receives the most up to date information, the most current information, up to the minute, up to the second, so that the police officer knows what he's walking into. It's a matter of officer safety."

Authorities say Richard Kirk shot his wife in the head about 12 minutes into her call with 911, although 7NEWS has determined that it took Denver police at least 16 minutes to respond to the home at 2112 S. St. Paul St., near the University of Denver.

Officers entered the home to find a black semi-automatic handgun on the floor of the front room and a cartridge on the floor in a hallway. Kristine Kirk was lying on the floor nearby. She was pronounced dead at the scene just before 10 p.m., police said.

The medical examiner said the woman died from a gunshot wound to the head. The killing was ruled a homicide.

Richard Kirk had been charged with one count of first-degree murder.

When asked if officers had received a verbal update about the escalating urgency of the call, whether that would have made a difference, Murray said they might have activated their lights and sirens. But he added that it would be speculation to say whether that would have made any difference in the outcome of the incident.

"Officers still have to drive with care and control," he said. "They have to respect the law and not be a danger. So, we don't know whether an emergency response would have changed the outcome of this, or any other case."

Safety officials say a pre-disciplinary meeting has been scheduled with the dispatcher. They won't say when or where that meeting is scheduled.

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