The one thing we all hope we can count on is when we call 911, help is on the way.
But that was not the case for a 63-year old grandmother last month. A woman, presumably Patricia Davis, called 911 from inside her Third Avenue home in Marrero on Oct. 25. She called crying and then hung up. Then she called again, this time whispering her address to the 911 operator. When Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Deputies arrived and knocked on the door, they say a woman peeked out of the window, slightly separating the curtains. They say she did it again from another window. But then deputies say they heard a woman inside screaming.
The deputies then called Sgt. Christopher Gai, a 23-year veteran of the department, inquiring what to do next? Gai told them they didn't have enough probable cause to force their way inside. So shockingly, despite the sound of screaming inside, the deputies left the home of Patricia Davis.
Seven days later her body was found decomposing in a ditch near a wooded area off Interstate 10 in New Orleans East. NOPD says Davis was most likely killed in Jefferson Parish and her body was dumped in New Orleans.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said he was concerned by the decision to leave Davis' home but added that it was a split-second determination.
"We can always look at the end result and second-guess what procedure was done," he said. "There isn't a policy in place to cover every situation out there."
But do deputies really need a policy for what to do when arriving at the home of woman who twice called 911 and is heard screaming inside her home? How about break down the door and save her life?
Gai, who ordered the deputies to leave the Davis home, has been fired. But not because of his inexcusable decision to ignore the screaming inside of the home of the now deceased Patricia Davis. Sheriff Lopinto says he fired Gai after he showed signs of deception during a polygraph exam he was given during an administrative investigation into the 911 call.
"Would I have made a different decision (at the scene)? I would have," Lopinto told the Advocate.
"We can always look back and second-guess those actions," the sheriff added. "He made a decision that some people would agree with and some wouldn't agree with."
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto has fired a sergeant who failed a polygraph test after he ordered deputies not to break into the home of a Marrero woman they heard screaming inside her residence days before her lifeless body was found in New Orleans East.
Lopinto said he disagreed with the decision by the sergeant, Christopher Gai, who determined deputies lacked probable cause to enter the Third Avenue residence Oct. 25 despite hearing screams and spotting a woman peering through the curtains inside the house.
But how can anyone agree with the decision to leave the home of a woman who was heard screaming inside? It’s also fair to ask why the deputies didn’t knock the door down immediately once hearing the screaming. Why would they even consider calling Gai for permission. Don’t Jefferson Parish deputies have the authority to break down a door if they believe someone inside is in danger? I posed the question to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office but have not yet received an answer.
Family members of Patricia Davis demand answers. Her niece, Dr. Stacie Peck, of Houston, said Davis' screams were so loud her neighbors could hear them.
"To me, it's a lack of common sense or laziness, like they didn't want to be bothered with just another domestic dispute," Davis' son, Nigel Davis, told the Advocate.
The Jefferson parish Sheriff’s office is handling the Davis murder investigation. They have yet to make an arrest.
We all understand how tough and dangerous police work can be and how decisions made in the field are easy to second guess. And busting in the door of the Davis home would have potentially brought great danger to the deputies on the scene. But had deputies taken the risk and broken in the door of the home of Patricia Davis to learn why she was screaming, chances are her body would not have been found naked, abandoned and decomposing only seven days later. We may never know for sure. But at the very least Lopinto should assure the public his deputies will never again leave the home of a 911 call with a screaming woman inside.
Dan Fagan is a former TV and radio broadcaster who lives in Metairie. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.