Special Reports

911 operator wishes he'd recognized Powell situation's urgency

The Pierce County 911 operator who handled a social worker’s call Sunday from Josh Powell’s house told “Dateline NBC” in an exclusive interview he wishes he’d “recognized the urgency of the situation” that day.

But the man, who’s name has not been released, said he didn’t think the outcome would have been different even if he had dispatched deputies “one minute” after taking Elizabeth Griffin-Hall’s call.

Sheriffs deputies wouldn’t immediately have kicked in the door to rescue Charlie and Braden Powell from their homicidal father, but most likely would have cordoned off the area and treated it as a hostage situation, the operator said.

“You don’t automatically default to the notion that the person you’re dealing with is a pyschopath,” said the man, dressed in a blue shirt and tie for his interview with reporter Keith Morrison. “We’re normal people. We don’t live in that mindset.”

The operator, who’s come under criticism for his handling of the call, said he’s second-guessed himself in the days since, especially in light of the outcome. Josh Powell attacked his sons with a hatchet before setting his house on fire with them inside. All three died.

“It was horrible. This has been a nightmare,” the operator said.

“Dateline NBC” released excerpts of the interview on its website in advance of Friday night’s broadcast.

The operator said his handling of the call was “clumsy and faltering.”

“It’s painful to listen to,” the man said. “Realizing what we all know now, I wish I’d recognized the urgency of the situation.”

The operator admitted he misinterpreted some of Griffin-Hall’s comments, including that she smelled gasoline after Powell locked her out of his house. Griffin-Hall dropped the boys off that morning for a supervised visit with Powell, but he locked her out of his house.

The operator said he thought Griffin-Hall was sitting in her car and might have smelled gas from the idling engine.

“I should have asked her more about that,” he said.

Pierce County’s Law Enforcement Support Agency, which runs the 911 dispatch center for the Sheriff’s Department, is investigating the man’s handling of the call.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644