The Colorado Springs Police Department on Wednesday released the audio from two 911 calls placed last Saturday morning just prior to and during a deadly gun rampage. The first call came just 10 minutes before a man shot three people to death and was subsequently killed in a shootout with police. The Colorado Springs PD released the audio and a detailed statement following several stories by Mother Jones and other news outlets focusing on whether Colorado’s open carry law may have played a role in how the police responded.
In the first call, placed at 8:45 a.m. on October 31, resident Naomi Bettis told a dispatcher that she saw a man, later identified as 33-year-old Noah Harpham, walking around a building with a broken window across the street from her house. She said that he was carrying a black rifle and gasoline cans, and she described him as suspicious and “scary” at several points during the six-minute-long call. At one point she told the dispatcher that the man was going in and out of an upstairs apartment in the building. “It may be the guy that lives upstairs because he ran right up there, but he still shouldn’t be holding a gun,” Bettis said.
“Well it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it,” the dispatcher responded. “But of course having those gas cans, it does seem pretty suspicious so we’re going to keep the call going for that.” Bettis clearly sounded agitated during parts of the call: “I went out there to get in my Jeep,” she said, “and I’m scared to death.” When asked by the dispatcher whether anyone’s life was in imminent danger, however, she answered no. “I just hope that this is, you know, not as bad as it is,” Bettis said. Listen to the full call here:
Bettis later told the Washington Post that she was put off by the dispatcher’s comments regarding the state’s open carry law, as if the dispatcher “didn’t believe me.” On Tuesday, Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs PD told Mother Jones that Bettis’ first 911 call wasn’t treated as “the highest priority call for service.” In its statement released Wednesday, the department said the call was originally treated as a “priority 3” call, which “represents in-progress incidents involving property.” One minute into the call, the incident was upgraded to a “priority 2” call, and changed to a possible burglary in progress, according to the statement. The department’s priority scale has six levels, with “priority 1” being the most urgent.
At the time of the first call, all officers in the area were on other calls, according to the department’s statement. Then, one officer who became available during the call was instead dispatched to a disturbance in progress at a senior residential facility: “The call for service [near Bettis] was the same priority level as the disturbance; however, the disturbance at the senior center represented a threat to human life, while [Bettis’ call] (a possible burglary-in-progress) was at the time considered a threat to property.”
“He’s laying on the street dead”
After the initial six-minute exchange with the dispatcher, Bettis was told to call back if the situation changed. Ten minutes later, she did. “I just called a few minutes ago, and the guy came back out,” she said, now sounding frantic and her voice shaking. “He fired the gun at somebody and he’s laying on the street dead.” Listen to the full call here: [Warning: Some may find the following audio disturbing.]
At that point, according to the statement from the Colorado Springs PD, all available police units and an ambulance were dispatched. Less than 10 minutes after that Harpham’s three victims had been shot and he was killed by gunfire from police.
“Upon review of the 911 audio from the initial call for service the (dispatcher) responded in accordance with both the Colorado Springs Police Department policy and national protocols,” the department said in its statement.
The department also released a 2011 training document with respect to how it handles the open carry issue:
“The mere act of openly carrying a gun in a non-threatening manner is not automatically to be considered suspicious behavior. Therefore, if we get a call from a citizen about a person who has a firearm in plain sight and they are not acting in a suspicious manner, they have not brandished it, discharged it, or violated any of the previous conditions; CSPD will not respond.”