Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Where are the dispatch audio and typed logs on Janette's case?

This is a good illustration of the problems surrounding Janette Roberson's case. I wanted the dispatch log and audio of the call that came in from Gambles to Osceola County Sheriff's department on January 19, 1983. Should be a simple request, given that the person who dispatched those transmissions said that all calls were recorded and logged. So, I went to Michigan State Police and they said they didn't have it. 

Then, I went back to the originating body (Osceola County) and they say those records don't exist. The problem with that is they told me the same thing about the first responder's report from Osceola County when I won my appeal for the city documents, and subsequent to them saying that, the city lawyer contacted me saying they DID have it and turned it over to them.

Letter from city atty. stating they received documents from Osceola County
 AFTER I had made my request and told they didn't exist.

When I emailed back and asked when Osceola County began recording dispatch audio, I was directed to call Sheriff Crawford, which I did. He was quite gracious, and we had a nice conversation, but as far as he recalled, they didn’t record dispatch calls back then. He worked as a dispatcher, some years after 1983. 

The reason this issue is important is because these documents would not be excludable under FOIA law, they are public records – as the MSP denial notes. If they were turned over at some point to MSP, under FOIA law, they still would not be required to replicate and turn over documents from another law enforcement agency, thus it is the duty of the originator of those items to retain copies, particularly in an open homicide investigation.

According to Sheriff Crawford, they don’t have any documents related to Janette’s murder.  When the cold case team first started looking into this case again, he delivered everything he had to Reed City Police Chief Davis - which he described as “a few supplementals”. 

I will keep digging, but even if they did not record audio at that time – and I’m still not quite sure they didn’t – where’s the typed log? Nobody seems to have it.

Sheriff Crawford suggested that Michigan State Police should have some record of THEIR dispatches from that day, because they dispatched Reed City PD back then. Which would mean they’d also have the incoming dispatches from Osceola County. He brings up a valid point...

So…where are they?

Michigan State Police denial for dispatch audio and/or logs.

FOIA requests can be tricky - so I went back to make sure I'd asked in a way that if they had state police logs, they understood I wanted them, too. This is how I worded my request to Michigan State Police, exactly:

I would like to request the dispatch AUDIO recording as well as the log generated by the dispatcher of the call from the Gambles Store on January 19, 1983, as well as ALL dispatches out regarding the homicide of Janette Roberson, to include the dispatch audio from Michigan State Police to Reed City Post, as well as the Osceola County dispatches to the the EMS unit, as well as Reed City PD, Osceola County deputies, and the Michigan State Police Reed City post.

I don't believe this request is unreasonable, nor do I think these records shouldn't exist, because as Sheriff Crawford even said to me, they wouldn't destroy documents in an open homicide investigation. Unfortunately, he didn't work for Osceola County Sheriff's department at the time of the murder, so he doesn't know what happened to the records. And I do believe there were more records. Deputies were tasked to follow up tips that came in, per the Michigan State Police report, and Detective Southworth was actively assisting on this case, at that time. They should have generated, and subsequently turned over more than "a few supplementals" at some point. So when did that happen, and where are they, now?

I want to know who made the call from Gambles, what time that call was made, and who showed up when, according to verifiable reports, given there are a great deal of questions about the timing of police showing up to this scene.

The second, and biggest issue for me, is that the dispatcher that day, Ray Haight, told me that the Osceola County Sheriff at the time instructed him to put the call out to the EMS department as a “heart attack in progress” – and you’ll hear all about that in one of the early podcast episodes.

When Gary McGhee and his fellow EMS partner showed up at that scene, they believed they were responding to a heart attack. Then, he was subsequently led through a spot of blood on the floor on his way through the pet department by Officer Finkbeiner. Had he known he was responding to a homicide call, both he and Officer Finkbeiner may have handled that scene differently. I am trying to ascertain why that order was made. Ray says it was to keep people with scanners from hearing the homicide call, but the initial dispatch had already gone out, so people had already heard about the murder if they were listening to their scanners at home.

I believe those audio dispatches could shed light on many things, including the above, and why city officers arrived first, even though county deputies were the first out the door, and only blocks away, according to the dispatcher.

All these years, Officer Finkbeiner has gotten the brunt of the criticism for walking McGhee through that blood, and for shooing customers out of the store when he arrived, rather than holding them for interviews about what they may have seen. If Officer Finkbeiner also believed he was responding to a heart attack, that might explain his actions, and in that case, it would be up to Osceola County to clear up why they did what they did, and take ownership of what could have been a domino effect of mistakes that led to some issues regarding how that case was handled in the early minutes and hours.

I have uncovered one possible reason why Officer Finkbeiner showed up first, even though he wouldn’t have been the first person called, because the state police would have had to be called after the deputies were informed, and they, in turn, would have contacted city patrolmen.

According to this article from November 1982, there was an officer assigned to ‘walk the beat’ downtown Reed City. I checked with Ray and that duty was assigned to Officer Finkbeiner, so he may have been walking around downtown and somehow learned about some commotion at Gambles, before the Osceola county deputies arrived, as well as EMTs.

But HOW did he learn that? How did he know to show up at Gambles if Ray’s recollection is correct, and his deputies were running out the door as he called the Michigan State Police Post and had them dispatch a city response? When the EMTS arrived, Officer Finkbeiner was already there. Every report notes him being there first, so how did he come to enter that store before everyone, if his dispatch didn't go out until after the closest physical responding police department?

Just to be clear, I am not attributing anything nefarious to his early arrival - I just want to know the sequence of events, as I believe there are some discrepancies in the reports we currently have.

So. Many. Questions.

Season Two of Down &Away on the Murder of Janette Roberson drops Friday, and I'll go into some of these issues in future episodes.

Sheriff Crawford also suggested I speak to one of the deputies on duty that day, to see if he might be able to shed some light on the heart attack dispatch question, and arrivals on scene, so I’m going to try to see if he’ll speak to me. Fingers crossed!

Stay tuned!

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