An RCMP officer laughed with a police dispatcher about a call reporting six gunshot sounds in a quiet neighbourhood in rural British Columbia in 2008, not realizing that a woman lay dying inside her home, a coroner’s inquest has heard.
Cpl. Michael White, then a constable with seven years of experience, and another officer responded to the call and drove around the neighbourhood in Mission. But the inquest heard they did not get out of their vehicles to investigate or contact the neighbour who made the call.
Lisa Dudley, 37, and her boyfriend Guthrie McKay had been shot in an attack over a marijuana grow-op in their home. McKay died immediately but Dudley was paralyzed and lay in the home for four days until a neighbour checked in and called for help.
She died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.
A coroner’s inquest heard a recording Monday of the conversation White had with the police dispatcher.
“Six gunshots in a row and a crash,” he said before laughing.
“Yeah, exactly. Don’t you love this?” the dispatcher replied.
Monique Pongracic-Speier, a lawyer for Dudley’s family, asked White whether he thought a shots-fired call was funny.
“No, it’s not funny,” he told the inquest. “I was skeptical.”
White told the five-member jury he had reservations about the call because it was an unusually high number of gunshots and it had only been reported by one neighbour. It could have been firecrackers or another unknown noise, he said.
Because the dispatcher told him the caller had heard a “crash,” White assumed there had been a car accident, which could have been caused by shots being fired at a vehicle, he testified.
When he couldn’t see any evidence of a car crash or shell casings on the road, he parked his car, filed his report and closed the case, less than half an hour after receiving the initial call.
The RCMP later gave the officer a written reprimand and docked him a day’s pay as punishment.
About a year after Dudley’s death, the RCMP in B.C. updated its policies to require officers to always contact complainants in shots-fired calls, White testified.
If the officer had contacted the neighbour who called police, he would have learned that the man was not the only person who heard gunshots, Pongracic-Speier said.
Erwin Adam told the inquest that he was standing outside with another neighbour and his son when they all heard what they believed were gunshots.
Adam choked back tears as he recalled how upset he felt when Dudley was found dying in her home.
The inquest heard a recording of Adam’s conversation with a police dispatcher in which he said he’d heard six gunshots and “someone yelling out.” He also told the dispatcher about a “crashing sound” his neighbour had heard.
He initially called a non-emergency number because he wasn’t sure if an animal or a human had been hurt, but he was transferred to a different police dispatcher. He believed someone was in pain and Mounties should investigate, he testified.
Neither call-taker seemed “terribly interested” in his report, Adam said.
He gave the dispatcher his phone number and address, as well as his neighbour’s address, where he made the call to police. Both he and his neighbour assumed that an officer had contacted the other, so neither followed up with RCMP, he said.
“I feel badly about that,” he said, breaking down in tears.
The neighbour who found Dudley four days later, Stuart Young, testified that he knocked on her front door and didn’t get a response. He went to the back of the house, where he saw through a shattered glass door that Dudley was in a chair in the corner of the room, he said.
Mark Surakka, Dudley’s stepfather, said outside the inquest that he found White’s attitude during his testimony to be “indifferent,” and not rooted in reality.
“It bordered on cavalier. The seriousness of what happened and transpired … it didn’t sound real,” he said.
Surakka has heard the call between the officer and the dispatcher before. Every time he listens to it, it makes him cringe, he said.
“It’s just uncomfortable to listen to. It’s part of the evidence now and hopefully the jury recognizes the value of that tape.”
Surakka said he doesn’t expect to get justice from the inquest, but he is hoping to find answers.
The goal of an inquest is not to lay blame, but to determine the events that led to a person’s death and potentially make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.