Zimmermann call operator had previous mistake - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Zimmermann call operator had previous mistake


Madison (WKOW) --  The 911 dispatcher who mishandled murder victim Brittany Zimmermann's emergency cell phone call violated call-taking policy several months before the student's death.

   "She was retrained,"  Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk told 27 News.

   A county report of the investigation into veteran dispatcher Rita Gahagan's mishandling of the April 2 call from Zimmermann's cell phone notes Gahagan was assessed a coaching note on Sept. 7, 2007 for "a violation of the Emergency Call Handling Procedure 5.2."   That is the same procedure which Gahagan violated when she failed to call back Zimmermann's cell phone when the call disconnected.   In court documents, a police detective stated there was a scream on the Zimmermann call, but records show the sound was interpreted differently by Gahagan.   "It didn't register as a scream,"  Gahagan told one of her supervisors.

   A coaching note is written documentation of a problem which can remain in an employee's personnel file for up to one year.

   "The coaching note would be the first step in any sort of any disciplinary process,"  County deputy director of administration Travis Myhren told 27 News.   "Really, it's pre-discipline."

   Falk declined to comment specifically on what led to the assessment of a coaching note to Gahagan in September, citing a continuing personnel investigation into Gahagan's handling of the Zimmermann call.   County records also show Gahagan received another coaching note July 17, 2007 related to a fire radio protocol issue.

   Despite what records say was an exceptional, overall fall 2007 performance evaluation, Gahagan requested transfer to a lower classified County job outside of the 911 center one month before mishandling the Zimmermann call.   Gahagan's transfer was effective less than two weeks after the student's death.

   Gahagan's attorney has yet to a return a call for comment from 27 News.

   Joe Norwick directed the 911 Center when Gahagan received the two separate coaching notes and mishandled the Zimmermann call.   Norwick resigned in the wake of the Zimmermann incident.  

   Falk said Norwick and his staff's assignment of a coaching note for Gahagan's September actions was appropriate.   "All of our employees, the 911 team, get constantly retrained.   She was a very seasoned employee."

   County officials declined to release the contents of the coaching notes given to Gahagan. 



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