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Internal report on 2022 killing raises issues with Cleveland police dispatch

 photo of James and Pam Sidelka
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
James and Pam Sidelka at their home in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland on June 8, 2023. The Sidelkas believe police could have done more to help their daughter, who was murdered on Sept. 6, 2022.

On Sept. 6, 2022, Cleveland detectives knocked on the door of James Sidelka's Old Brooklyn home. They were there to tell Sidelka that his daughter, Carly Capek, had been killed in the Cleveland house where she was living.

“You’re sitting here, watching TV, doing whatever you're doing and all of a sudden you get a knock at your door and people throw stuff like this at you? Can you comprehend stuff like that, right away?” Sidelka said.

The detectives didn’t tell him much about what happened. He and his wife Pam would later piece together a timeline - from people who lived near the house at West 78th and Lorain, from news reports and from the internal affairs report.

The internal affairs investigation considered the question of the time it took police to respond to the scene of the killing and whether the delay resulted in Capek's killing.

The 911 calls

According to the department’s investigation, at 12:32 p.m. on September 6, a neighbor called 911.

“I need police and ambulance, there’s a guy choking a girl in her house, and he’s killing her right now,” the caller, Katherine Burnheimer, told the call taker.

Later in that same call, Burnheimer would grow increasingly desperate for assistance.

“Oh my God, I hope she’s not dead,” Burnheimer said. “She’s yelling. She’s screaming. Oh my God.”

House at 2144 West 78th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
The house at 244 West 78th Street in Cleveland where Carly Capek was killed on Sept. 6, 2022.

When a call is made to 911, the call taker enters basic information into a computer aided dispatch, or CAD, system. A police dispatcher uses the information to send a patrol car to the scene. During the attack on Carly Capek, the urgency was lost in the process.

The initial 911 call taker, Deater Martin, would later tell investigators from Cleveland's Internal Affairs Unit that she wasn’t sure why she didn’t put comments like “I hope she’s not dead” into the CAD system.

“I can’t recall why I didn’t or if I heard those things entirely, and I can’t recall from my review afterwards if I’m honest,” Martin said.

Three minutes after that call started, a dispatcher would try to send the nearest patrol car. The dispatcher didn’t share any information about screaming or a woman being killed. The sergeant on duty, Martin Lentz, responded by asking for details.

 carly capek
Pam Sidelka
Carly Capek

“What’s your code 1?” Lentz asked.

“Male choking a female,” the dispatcher responded.

Lentz said the first car was on a “district assignment” and unavailable.

According to the internal affairs report, that “district assignment” was an officer waiting for the gas company to arrive at his house.

During his interview with Internal Affairs, Lentz contradicted what he’s heard saying to the dispatcher.

“I heard the dispatcher go out for A11 [the car on district assignment] for a priority two,” Lentz said in his interview.

“And did A11 respond?” the interviewer asked.

“I intercepted and notified them that A11 was detailed,” Lentz said.

The dispatcher then moves on to the next patrol car, which is available and begins to respond from District 2 Headquarters.

That’s four minutes after the first 911 call came in.

By 12:38 p.m., six minutes after the first 911 call, a third 911 call came in, this one also from Katherine Burnheimer, asking where police are.

“He was beating her up in there, strangling her, one of the girls ran out and she was screaming,” she said. “I heard a bunch of glass breaking in there and she was screaming.”

At 12:46 p.m., 12 minutes after the first 911 call and ten minutes after being dispatched, officers pulled up to the house. It's five minutes after EMS arrived and four minutes after a fire truck arrived at the scene. EMS and firefighters both had to wait outside until police arrived.

“You’ve got another car in the area?” the responding officer asked as he approached the house. “We’re just not sure what’s going on here.”

The responding officers drove to the scene in heavy traffic without using lights or sirens. In the internal affairs interview, the officer said the call came to him categorized as “Scream” and a priority 2 call, less urgent than what it actually was.

“He stated that it was the middle of the day and that traffic was heavy,” the author of the Internal Affairs report wrote. “He explained that the reason he did not respond using lights and sirens was that he’s responded to numerous “Scream” (CAD incident type) calls in the past and that from prior experience it’s usually ‘not super urgent to get there.’”

The officers found Capek’s alleged killer sitting naked on the couch inside and Capek dead in a bedroom.

Internal Affairs determined that police arrived at the house in close to a regular amount of time – about ten minutes after being dispatched. The average in a situation like this, it said, is almost ten minutes.

Investigators did fault four 911 call takers for not taking down enough information.

The report’s author also recommended the city adopt a system that lets responding officers listen to the original 911 call on the way to the scene.

In an emailed response, a city spokesperson pointed out the police response time was not delayed and said when it came to the dispatch issues that there is always room for improvement and the city continues to consider options to improve police service.

911 communication breakdown? Not the first time

The failure to relay key information from a 911 call is not a new issue.

After 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by Cleveland Police in 2014 while playing with a toy gun, an internal investigation found the 911 call taker failed to relay to dispatch the original caller’s comment that Rice might be a juvenile and the gun might be fake.

Nine months after Katherine Burnheimer's 911 call, the Sidelka’s remain angry at the city, angry at the police department and left with the unshakeable feeling that more could have been done to save their daughter's life.

“I can’t accept these excuses,” said Capek's stepmother Pam Sidelka. “And I don’t want my daughter’s death be in vain. You know, it happened, but I felt there was not respect for her.”

“I don't even like my own life right now because I've got to live with this,” James Sidelka said. “Every day of my life until the end of it. I don't want to carry on with this. I need some kind of sympathy, some help, anything to help put me back on my feet.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.