Police slow to respond in deadly home invasion?

Happened in Cheshire, Connecticut
January 22, 2008 4:35:51 PM PST
Police took nearly five minutes from the time they received a 911 call until officers were dispatched to what turned out to be a deadly home invasion last summer, according to dispatch records obtained by The Hartford Courant. The first officer was outside the home for at least 26 minutes before the two men who allegedly murdered Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two teenage daughters were captured fleeing the horrific scene.

The heavily edited dispatch log and transcript of the police response were released to The Courant Monday as part of a freedom of information request.

The documents describe police officers setting up for a hostage situation by trying to establish a secure perimeter and waiting for SWAT team members and equipment to arrive rather than trying to contact the possible suspects or attempting to rescue family members trapped inside.

Jennifer Petit, 48, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were alive while officers were outside the home and were killed in the final minutes of their seven-hour ordeal. The two suspects are accused of strangling the mother and leaving the girls to die, tied to their beds as the pair fled the burning house.

Joshua Komisarjevsky, 27, and Steven Hayes, 44, face capital felony charges.

Dr. William Petit Jr. escaped, despite being bound and severely beaten.

As one officer was yelling for a dispatcher to call an ambulance for Petit, others were alerting each other that the suspects were fleeing the house and the house was on fire.

Cheshire police declined to comment to The Courant on their response to the triple killings, citing a gag order imposed by New Haven Superior Court Judge Richard Damiani on all parties involved in the case. A telephone message was left Tuesday by The Associated Press with a police spokesman.

Police have defended their response, saying they followed proper protocols.

Cheshire police delayed entering the home because of assurances from a 911 caller who had been told no one would be hurt if police were not notified, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press last year.

Police believe the two career criminals broke into the Petit home about 3 a.m. and took members of the family hostage. Shortly after 9 a.m., police believe, Jennifer Hawke-Petit went to a Bank of America branch with Hayes to withdraw $15,000 from her account in a last-ditch effort to save her family.

Police became aware of the Petits' ordeal with the 911 call from the Bank of America manager at 9:21 a.m.

Records show that dispatchers several times put the bank manager on hold during the initial three-minute 911 call. The bank manager was then told to call back police headquarters on another line to get a further description of what took place in the bank.

The back and forth phone calls took nearly five minutes, The Courant reported. A radio dispatch of an "incident" at the house occurred at 9:26 a.m. and a description of the Petits' car used for the trip to the bank, including the license plate number, was broadcast to police at 9:28 a.m.

The dispatch tape describes officers trying to determine if people were in the Petit house and if the car had returned home from the bank. A decision was made quickly to call in the SWAT team, and some of the members were already at the scene.