Zimmermann 911 Call: "Sound of a woman screaming" - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Zimmermann 911 Call: "Sound of a woman screaming"


MADISON (WKOW) -- Unsealed Dane County court documents state a police detective heard "the sound of a woman screaming" in a tape of a 911 call from the cell phone of murder victim, UW-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann.

   The court information contradicts previous statements on the call from a union representative for the operator who handled the call, Rita Gahagan.

   AFSCME Local 720 representative Laurie Lane told 27 News in May there was nothing alarming in the ninety second call, which ultimately disconnected, only random sounds.

   "(Sounds) Like movement,"  Lane told 27 News.   "Like you can hear like movement."

   In search warrant documents unsealed at the request of the Wisconsin State Journal,  police detective  Marion Morgan states beyond the screaming sound, "the line remains active and open picking up the background sounds of a struggle for a short period of time."

   When contacted Tuesday by 27 News, Lane declined any further comment.

   An attorney for Gahagan told 27 News she would also decline any comment.

   Authorities have said Gahagan mishandled the April emergency call from Zimmermann's cell phone, failing to call back the number after it disconnected, and not considering an attempt to dispatch police.  

   Unsealed court records show 48 minutes elapsed between the emergency cell phone call and the discovery of Zimmermann's body by her fiance.

   Records also show Zimmermann's death was from both stabbing and strangulation.

   A lawsuit has been filed in an attempt to force County officials to release a tape of the call.

   In a filing Tuesday in Dane County court, case attorney April Rockstead Barker argued the unsealing of the documents destroys any reason to maintain the secrecy of the 911 call.

   "There is no longer any credible argument whatsoever in support of the County's refusal to release the records,"  Rockstead Barker wrote.

   "It is apparent that the public was previously misled as to the alleged importance of maintaining the confidentiality of this information."

   In a statement, Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said police and Dane County District Attorney officials blundered in not seeking a judge's extension of the seal of the Zimmermann court records.

   "I would be very surprised if the police department does not maintain sufficient administrative procedures to be reminded of the important deadlines for maintaining the confidentiality of information that is allegedly essential to a criminal investigation,"  Rockstead Barker told 27 News.

   DeSpain also said despite the release of the previously confidential information, "detectives don't believe the unsealing of these search warrant affidavits will jeopardize their case."  No one has been arrested and charged in connection with Zimmermann's homicide.

   The unsealed affidavits also show detectives received court permission to search the belongings of three men:  Anthony Thomas Cosgrove, 51;  Jeffrey Ball, 49;  and Chauncey Mack, 53.   Police officials were unavailable to comment on whether the men remained subjects of the probe, but a Wisconsin State Journal report quoted a police captain stating the men had been cleared.

   In a statement, Dane County 911 communications center interim director Kathy Krusiec said an investigation "found no evidence the dispatcher who took a call from Ms. Zimmermann's cell phone heard anything that indicated an emergency was occurring."   The statement noted Gahagan's equipment was working properly, there were no unusual distractions, and the twenty year veteran operator was not working an overtime shift. 

   While still a county employee, Gahagan no longer works as a 911 dispatcher.   Authorities have said Gahagan requested a transfer from her long time position before mishandling the Zimmermann call.   Krusiec said an investigation into Gahagan's performance on the day of the homicide will be completed this month.

   County Corporation Counsel Marcia McKenzie said the county's position on maintaining the secrecy of the 911 call recording is being evaluated in consultation with police officials and district attorney Brian Blanchard.







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