The Pierce County Law Enforcement Support Agency dispatcher who took a social worker’s 911 call just before Josh Powell killed his children and himself has been reprimanded for allowing 22 minutes to lapse before help arrived.
“The public trust has been shaken,” a supervisor for dispatcher David Lovrak wrote in a reprimand letter obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public-records request. Lovrak violated four Law Enforcement Support Agency policies in his handling of the call, though he did correctly assign the call a priority that indicated an “imminent danger to life or property.”
“You have undergone local and national scrutiny, have admitted your errors and have identified the ways you will correct and improve your call handling in the future,” the letter reads.
The written reprimand was placed in the 18-year veteran’s personnel file, joining four other rebukes including tardiness and misuse of a messaging system, most recently in 2007.
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Lovrak took the 911 call Feb. 5, after Powell locked out social worker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, who was supposed to supervise a visit with his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, at his Graham home.
Lovrak asked Griffin-Hall seemingly unimportant questions and failed to grasp the situation: When Griffin-Hall said she smelled gas, Lovrak assumed she was smelling the fumes of her own idling car, according to the letter.
At the end of the call, he told her deputies “have to respond to emergencies, life-threatening situations first.”
Powell, under suspicion in his wife Susan Cox Powell’s 2009 disappearance and in a bitter custody dispute with her parents, doused the house with gasoline and hit both boys in the head with a hatchet before he set the house on fire. All three were killed.
Lovrak said in an exclusive interview on “Dateline NBC” in early January that he wished he’d “recognized the urgency of the situation.”
“You don’t automatically default to the notion that the person you’re dealing with is a pyschopath,” he said during an interview, adding, “This has been a nightmare.”
Lovrak also said his handling of the call was "clumsy and faltering."
"It's painful to listen to," he said of the recording. "Realizing what we all know now, I wish I'd recognized the urgency of the situation."
The News Tribune contributed to this report.