Released Audiotapes Show 911 Operator Hanging Up On Caller

Several Callers Try To Report Breakin In Progress

It's supposed to be a lifeline for those facing life or death situations, but what happens when that phone line goes dead? When a 911 agent hangs up on an emergency caller?

The Investigators first broke the story in February but five months later, Denver's police chief has agreed to release the audiotape. On it, you can hear two Denver neighbors who thought their lives were on the line, calling for help.

"Lady, you need to get over here! Get the police. They're ripping the power out of my house," Robert Sanchez said during the 911 call he made to report a crime in progress. "I've got little girls inside here with me. I've already yelled, and he's trying to get in."

Sanchez's call was one of eight calls to Denver's emergency center in a 33-minute period when two unknown criminals were on the loose, terrorizing a Denver neighborhood.

    Sanchez to 911 agent: "Agent Kelly, it's Robert." 911 agent: "Yes, sir." Sanchez: "Were they gonna send somebody after we're dead?" 911 agent: "No, sir, they're actually handling a shooting at the moment. An officer will be there as soon as they can."

Sanchez (on the left) told 7NEWS Investigator Tony Kovaleski that his greatest fear that morning was that "this guy was going to get in and kill us."

    Ernesto Palomino\911 caller: "I called, I think it was, its been at least 20, 30 minutes, and I..." Denver 911 agent: "Yeah, the thing is that we don't have any officers available right at the moment."

No officers were available that morning. A pre-dawn murder investigation apparently depleted the entire Denver police force.

    Palomino\911 caller: "So what are we just supposed to do? Sit here and wait? Denver 911 agent: "Well, if we don't have any officers to send you, we uh ... I mean they're working, they're working a couple homicides, so we're extremely busy."

Palomino said that the answer the 911 operator gave him was not acceptable.

"How are you going to tell me that you'll get to me when you can?" Palomino said.

But that wasn't the worst of it.

    Denver 911 agent: "Sir, we don't have any officers available. Palomino: "I ... that's understandable. So what, we're supposed to just sit here and wait?" Denver 911 agent: "What else do you want me to tell you, sir?" Palomino: "I want you .... to tell you to get somebody out here." Denver 911 agent: "I understand that, OK?" Palomino: "Now." Denver 911 agent: "Goodbye, sir."

Eight calls for help and more than 30 minutes later, the frustrations ended with a 911 agent hanging up on two frightened callers.

"She just hung the phone up on me. She didn't say, 'Bye,' didn't tell me nothing. Just hung the phone up on me," Palomino said.

"Totally unacceptable, totally unacceptable," said Dennis Bruns, an expert on 911 operations.

Bruns has spent more than three decades working, managing and building emergency call centers.

"If I were a supervisor listening to that call ... That gentleman was frustrated, he was not being rude, he was scared, it was very obvious. And if I'm that person's supervisor, there better be a really good excuse for hanging up on that person, like somebody died right next to her chair in the dispatch room. That is unacceptable in my opinion, in my strong opinion," said Bruns.

After the hangup, police did respond to the scene, arresting two men for the serious crimes they committed that morning.

"I mean I left helpless. I felt helpless. I didn't know what to do, and I was expecting a police officer to show up and help us, protect us," said Sanchez.

"This should shake the earth up a little, because of the fact that this is a felony in process that did not get handled right. This should concern them and they should go and find out what the root of the problem is," said Bruns.

The Denver Police Department disciplined two 911 agents and a dispatcher following the original report in February. After 7NEWS received the audio tapes, the department and Chief Gerry Whitman declined a request for an interview to further explain what happened.

So why are problems continuing? On 7NEWS Wednesday night, Tony Kovaleski explores that issue and why promised changes have not been made.

If something like this has happened to you, in Denver or anywhere in Colorado or Wyoming, call our tip line at (303) 83-TIPS (8477) or e-mail us at newstips@thedenverchannel.com to share your story and we will investigate.

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