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 the sheriff said Gai was fired because he showed signs of deception during a polygraph exam he was given during an administrative investigation into the 911 call.
That inquiry — and a related murder investigation — could determine whether Jefferson deputies missed an opportunity to save the life of 63-year-old Patricia Davis, whose family believes she was killed in Marrero and later dumped near Interstate 10 and Michoud Boulevard in New Orleans.
"Would I have made a different decision (at the scene)? I would have," Lopinto said in an interview Tuesday.
"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."
Davis' death has stumped investigators since a group of workers found her naked body Oct. 31. There were no signs of trauma to her corpse, and the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office has not yet determined the cause of death, pending toxicology test results.
Beau Tidwell, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman, said all indications point to Davis' death as having occurred in Jefferson Parish. The NOPD's Homicide Division has turned the investigation and all evidence over to the Jefferson Sheriff's Office.
Davis' family members have expressed frustration at the lack of answers. They said Davis had no friends in the Michoud area and would have had no reason to go there on her own.
In interviews, they questioned the decision by Jefferson deputies to leave Davis' home despite signs that she was in duress.
"To me, it's a lack of common sense or laziness, like they didn't want to be bothered with just another domestic dispute," said Davis' son, Nigel Davis.
Patricia Davis' niece, Dr. Stacie Peck, of Houston, said in a telephone interview that Davis' screams were so loud her neighbors could hear them.
"My concern is that there was a distress call and the police didn't intervene," Peck said.
Lopinto stopped short of describing the 911 call as a domestic disturbance. He said deputies responded to a "911 hang-up" that authorities triangulated to Davis' home.
Sheriff's Office records show deputies had been dispatched to "a call for service reporting a woman crying to 911 operator on a disconnected cellphone."
"Dispatch advised units that (the) caller called back and whispered the address of 6104 Third Ave.," according to a Sheriff's Office report, referring to Davis' home.
At some point, the arriving deputies spotted a woman inside the home who "opened the curtain and closed it again," the report says. "She appeared on the other side of the house and opened the curtain to the other side of the residence and closed it again, disappearing into the house. Deputies then heard a scream in the house."
The report says deputies knocked on the door and windows repeatedly but didn't receive a response.
The deputies then contacted Gai, the sergeant, and asked how they should proceed. Gai told them they lacked the requisite probable cause or warrant to enter the residence, Lopinto said. The deputies could have called for a SWAT team to enter the home but were told to stand down.
Lopinto said he was "concerned" by that decision 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."
Lopinto declined to elaborate on Gai's firing. "I'm not going to tell you what he lied about," the sheriff said. "When the investigation is complete, I'm happy to disclose everything."
Lopinto said investigators also are reviewing previous calls for service at Davis' residence, but he would not elaborate on them.
While he said homicide investigators are now working the case doggedly, Davis' son, Nigel, said the circumstances of his mother's death have haunted him.
He said his family hasn't been able to view Patricia Davis' body because of how badly decomposed it was when it was found. That, he said, has deprived his family of the closure received by most people who are grieving the death of a loved one.
Patricia Davis was disabled by back problems after retiring from a career in nursing. She was cared for by her son, Nigel Davis' brother, who according to authorities has been questioned about his mother's death and who recently received psychiatric treatment after attempting suicide. Relatives and authorities have declined to identify him.
"She was looking forward to just seeing her family grow, and now she's been cheated out of that," Nigel Davis said. "She was looking forward to seeing me get married, my nephews growing into the adults they were going to be."
"And that's not going to happen now."