Sheriff’s Office investigates victim’s 911 call

By Melanie Speicher -

SIDNEY — An investigation into a 911 call received from a victim held hostage on Tuesday, Nov. 6, has been conducted by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. And because of the investigation, the office has made a change in how it will respond to 911 calls.

According to Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart, on Nov. 6, 2019, at 7:09 p.m. Chief Deputy Jim Frye received a call from Chief Will Balling of the Sidney Police Department advising him that the victim in the standoff on Fair Road had made a 911 call when she was being held against her will and whichever dispatcher answered the call left a message for the caller to call back.

Sidney Police Chief Will Balling said the victim told Sgt. Rob Jameson that she had called 911. The information was received during the investigative interview with the victim.

“At this time, we did not know which agency received the call,” Lenhart said in a press release. “After being notified of a possible 911 call being made to our office, we acted and started an investigation that very evening. We found that we did receive a 911 call and that Dispatcher Brian Doak took the call.”

On Nov. 7, 2019, investigators discovered that on Nov. 6, 2019, a 911 call was made at 12:04 p.m. Sheriff’s Office Dispatcher Doak answered the 911 call. When the 911 call first came into the Sheriff’s Office, the call plotted to the Millcreek tower. Doak did a manual reset and the call then plotted to the area of Fair and Spruce in the city of Sidney and again back to the Millcreek tower. The call lasted 20 seconds and Doak said he didn’t hear anything from the caller. At 12:05 p.m., Doak called the number back. After ringing numerous times the call went to voicemail, where Doak then left a message.

“The 911 call was downloaded from the Sheriff’s Office’s recording system and when reviewed, you could hear what appeared to be a person in distress,” reported Lenhart.

On Nov. 8, 2019, the Sheriff’s Office was notified that the 911 call first came into the Sidney Police Department and due to both Sidney Police Department dispatchers being on active 911 calls, the 911 call rolled over to the Sheriff’s Office, which was the call Doak answered and is what the system is designed to do. It was discovered that 12 seconds had transpired from the time the call went to Sidney PD to the Sheriff’s Office.

“On Nov. 12, 2019, while investigating the incident, we were provided with recordings of the 911 call from Joel Glass, who is the IT manager for the city of Sidney and Shelby County,” said Lenhart. “Mr. Glass also provided us with all the documentation on all the active 911 calls at the time the 911 call was made. The recordings we were provided were from the 911 trunk system at Sidney Police Department. These recordings started recording as soon as the 911 call was made.

“When listening to these calls, you couldn’t hear anything from the person making the call. The 911 call that was recorded on the Sheriff’s Office was louder and different from what the call was from the 911 trunk system,” said Lenhart.

“Joel Glass and my staff investigating the situation couldn’t understand why the call recorded from the same call were different in tone and loudness. Dispatcher Doak stated and identified the 911 call Joel Glass provided was what he heard during the active 911 call,” said Lenhart.

In checking the console where the call came in, investigators played the 911 call received on Nov. 6, 2019, from that console.

“It was found that you could hear the dispatcher say ‘911, what’s your emergency?’ ‘911’ repeated several times, but you could not hear the caller and the phone eventually was hung up from the caller’s phone,” said Lenhart. “While trying to figure out why there was a difference in the recordings, it was found that there was a volume control or clarity control knob on the box the 911 handset is plugged into. This knob turns freely 360 degrees, with no limit or markings to know what level the volume is.”

The knob, he said, was turned while replaying the 911 call from the console, and investigators then could hear the caller just like it was in the recording obtained from the Sheriff’s Office recorder. The dispatchers were asked if they knew what this knob was for and they indicated they didn’t know what it was, have never used it and didn’t know what it controlled.

Sidney Police Department has the same setup for 911 calls as the Sheriff’s Office. Glass checked with Sidney Police Department dispatchers and they also didn’t know what the knob was for or never used it.

Doak stated he didn’t hear the caller and therefore thought it was a hang up call or what is commonly referred to as a “butt dial.”

“The Sheriff’s Office dispatchers receive many 911 calls from the Millcreek tower that are from callers traveling on Interstate 75,” said Lenhart. “Dispatcher Doak thought that this 911 call was just that. When they receive calls from the Millcreek tower, it is frequently that type of call and that’s why he said he called the number back and when he didn’t get an answer, he left a message.”

According to Lenhart, it is the policy of the Sheriff’s Office, when they receive a 911 hang up call or when they can’t hear the caller, the number is called back, if there is no answer and the cell phone plotted to an actual address, a deputy sheriff is sent to the address.

“With this call, it was found that Dispatcher Doak did what he could do with the limited information he had. When the call plotted to Fair and Spruce, it didn’t give a location of the caller and Dispatcher Doak had no address to send anyone to,” said Lenhart.

“We will change our philosophy on these types of 911 calls and from now on we will send a deputy to the plotted location to see if there is anything they could find related to the call,” he said.

“We are deeply sorry for what the victim went through and happy for the outcome. When you dial 911, you expect to get help and you should every time you call. With technology the way it is in today’s society, it’s sometimes difficult to identify a location where a caller is calling from. 911 calls can plot to a tower and as in this case the caller was 1.6 miles away from the tower. Technology can help or hurt us, and we strive as an agency to try to stay on top of it, which is why we have gone to Central Square as the vendor for our Records Management System,” said Lenhart.

“With Central Square, we would have been able to send a code to the phone and all the caller would have to do is click a prompt, and we would be able to plot and continuously track the location of the person and phone,” he said.

With changing the office’s philosophy in dealing with 911 calls and the implementation of the new software, “we may possibility be able to prevent anyone who calls 911 for an emergency from not getting the help they need,” said Lenhart.

“We will continue to provide the citizens of Shelby County with the professionalism they have come to expect from us and will always be transparent and accountable,” he said.

Balling said his department is looking at some of the features of the 911 console’s volume control knob and to how it could be better used in the future.

“We will be reviewing the entire situation from start to finish to see what we could do better in the future and proceed with training for the staff as needed,” said Balling.

Balling feels if would have made a difference if the dispatcher could have heard the victim talking on the 911 call.

“We will be working with Deputy Chief Frye to review the incident and see how both of our departments can handle these situations better in the future,” said Balling.

Wendell Johnson, 48, of Richmond, Indiana, was found dead in a residence in the 600 block of Fair Road. The standoff began around 12:57 p.m. Wednesday when Sidney Police units were dispatched to the Fair Road residence after a 29-year-old woman called 911 and said she needed assistance after escaping from being held against her will.

The victim reported she returned to her home on lunch break and that a former boyfriend, Johnson, who had been hiding behind the entrance door, surprised her by grabbing her and tasing her. Johnson then restrained the victim using flex ties and physically assaulted her. The victim observed that Johnson was in possession of an AR 15 type rifle.

After being held against her will for approximately one hour, the victim was able to convince Johnson to remove the flex ties and to negotiate her release. Once escaping, she immediately called 911 for help.

The standoff ended just before 6 p.m. when officials announced Johnson was dead.

By Melanie Speicher

Reach the writer at 937-538-4833.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4833.