Special Reports

Call-taker in Powell case praised, rebuked in the past

Everybody has their off days, and David Lovrak has had his.

The Pierce County Law Enforcement Support Agency call-taker recently was lambasted for not recognizing the severity of a 911 call he handled from a case worker standing outside Josh Powell’s house before the Puyallup man killed himself and his two young sons in a gasoline-fueled inferno Feb. 5.

LESA is still investigating how the call was handled and whether its procedures need to be changed.

On Monday, LESA released hundreds of pages in Lovrak’s personnel file in response to a public records request made by The News Tribune after the incident.

The documents include 32 glowing letters, commendations and awards that date to 1997. They describe a highly valued worker praised for his community involvement and quick thinking.

The file also includes a few reprimands for tardiness, trying to handle a call on his own rather than immediately passing it to dispatchers, and repeatedly sending sexually offensive comments through the agency’s computer-aided dispatch system.

Lovrak was hired at the 911 call center in 1993 and works as a communications officer, which means he takes emergency calls and passes pertinent information to dispatchers.

Despite his coarse handling of the call in the Powell case, Lovrak has been lauded for his work on several high-profile cases.

Most recently, a supervisor commended his teamwork for helping to send Pierce County law enforcement officers to assist Thursday when Washington State Patrol trooper Tony Radulescu was fatally shot in Kitsap County during a traffic stop. Lovrak was singled out for mention in a memo for going to Costco after work and bringing food back to fellow employees.

Sheriff Paul Pastor sent a letter to LESA’s director thanking several employees, including Lovrak, for their work after Mount Rainier National Park ranger Margaret Anderson was gunned down New Year’s Day and a manhunt started for the shooter.

Lovrak helped organize deputy Kent Mundell’s memorial service after he was killed on duty in 2009. Lovrak also helped Tacoma police track a transmitter hidden in cash just taken by a bank robber, resulting in the man’s quick arrest aboard a bus.

His dedication and diligence in educating the public about the 911 center earned him the Crowning Achievement Superior Service Award last year.

In a nomination letter, Lovrak’s bosses wrote, “A consummate perfectionist, David is, and has been for many years, the ‘face’ of LESA Communications – a shining example of a compassionate, knowledgeable 9-1-1 call taker.”

Others in the community agreed.

A handful of people called or wrote Lovrak’s bosses to compliment him on being polite and professional when they called 911. Dozens of others from various service groups penned their gratitude for giving enlightening presentations on the call center, providing informative tours or assisting with events like National Night Out.

But even Lovrak acknowledges he mishandled the Powell case worker’s 911 call. During the long-winded exchange, Lovrak seems abrupt and rude, sometimes talks over the case worker and asks her a series of tedious questions.

“Especially for somebody who has done this for as long as I have, to relisten to the call and hear how clumsy and faltering I sounded,” Lovrak said during a Dateline NBC interview. “It was horrible.”

Tom Orr, LESA’s director, called for an investigation to see if discipline is needed or if the call center needs to refine its procedures.

“Things that we now knew about this evil tragedy are not always so clear to those involved in the initial moments,” Orr said in a written statement. “What happened with this call first comes to us blindly on the other side of a phone; it is only in hindsight that we see things that are not apparent to the call takers.”

Lovrak’s file shows he has been reprimanded in writing for one other call. In 1998, he took a call from a man who was being blocked in a private parking lot by the owner’s vehicle. Records show Lovrak didn’t enter the call for dispatch for 10 minutes while he contacted the lot owner and eventually convinced him to let the other man leave.

The letter of reprimand rebuked him for making a value judgment and for violating the call center’s “confidentiality caution” by directly contacting the owner of the parking lot after the man being blocked called for help.

“We are not in a position to make judgments of this kind and are prohibited by rule from doing so,” shift manager Renee Bayer wrote.

Lovrak also received reprimands in 2007 for being tardy four times in a year and for using “sexual and wantonly offensive language toward the public or fellow employees” in the agency’s computer-aided dispatch system in 1999. Lovrak’s file indicates he was disciplined in 1997 for similar incidents.

Also in the documents released Monday was an internal affairs investigation conducted by the Sheriff’s Department in 2005 at the request of LESA. All allegations, made by Lovrak’s ex-wife – including that he smoked marijuana – were deemed unfounded.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653


Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune