Zimmermann operator lashes out in e-mails - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Zimmermann operator lashes out in e-mails


Madison (WKOW) -- The operator who took a call from a University of Wisconsin student's cell phone about the time she was being murdered criticized Dane County's 911 center in an e-mail released Wednesday on orders from a judge.

   Rita Gahagan sent the e-mail May 3 -- a month after Brittany Zimmermann's April 2 murder -- to Joe Norwick, who has since resigned as the center's director.

   Gahagan suggested that in trying to explain errors in handling Zimmermann's call, Norwick "could mention the failings of the new telephone system and the cheap headsets and the 20-year-old connections they plug into."

   Dane county supervisor Melanie Hampton, who is also a Madison police officer, said Gahagan's opinion provides some insight.

   "If someone who is using this equipment every day is saying that they have difficulty with it, I wouldn't have reason to fault them."

   But a spokesman for the Dane County executive disputes those comments and says the center's equipment has all been upgraded in recent years.

   In a statement released by the division of Public Safety Communications, the telephone system is touted as two years old and purchased for a half million dollars, and it stated operators can replace headphones with any one of six different models.

   The statement said during three interviews with Gahagan as a follow up to her handling of the Zimmermann call, she did not raise concerns about equipment.

   A police detective said there was a scream audible during the call, but Gahagan has said she heard nothing which registered as a scream before the call disconnected.   Gahagan failed to call the number back in violation of protocol, and no officers were dispatched to Zimmermann's apartment until more than 45 minutes later.

   In another portion of Gahagan's e-mail, she criticizes Norwick for his public statements indicating Gahagan hung up on Zimmermann's cell call.   "You know the way it works, the caller disconnects first,"  Gahagan wrote.

   Gahagan also intimates there's police resentment to being dispatched to calls with only a general address range.   Authorities have said had Zimmermann's cell phone information been used to make an immediate police dispatch, officers would have been sent to a next-door apartment building.

   Hampton said there are sometimes competing objectives between dispatchers and officers, with dispatchers needing to clear calls quickly, and officers needing to attend to duties on their assigned police beats while juggling being dispatched to distant points.   Hampton told 27 News officers would not refuse a dispatch request. 

   The stabbing death of the UW-Madison student from Marshfield remains unsolved.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)

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