Lexington police acknowledge 'failure' in Umi Southworth's death

New guidelines already in place

jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 5, 2010 

  • Time line of incident

    6:24 p.m. June 9. Police are dispatched to 1486 Meadowthorpe Ave. to check on a person's welfare.

    6:29 p.m. Officers arrive at 1486 Meadowthorpe Ave.

    7:45 p.m. Umi Southworth is found.

    7:50 p.m. Homicide detectives are notified.

    9:06 p.m. Homicide unit sergeant notifies coroner.

    9:35 p.m. Coroner arrives.

    11:05 p.m. Coroner discovers that Southworth is alive.

    11:07 p.m. Emergency medical service is requested.

    11:33 p.m. Southworth arrives at UK Hospital.

    1:19 p.m. June 10. Southworth dies at UK Hospital

    Herald-Leader Staff Report

Lexington police issued a statement Thursday saying that an internal-affairs investigation showed a "failure of policy and personnel" in the department's response to a case involving a badly beaten woman who investigators thought was dead.

No disciplinary action will be taken, the release said. Instead, the department is changing its policy and is providing all officers with updated training.

Details of the internal-affairs investigation were not disclosed. Police released only a statement from Chief Ronnie Bastin about the findings.

The investigation was launched five months ago in the wake of heavy criticism for the way Umi Southworth's case was handled.

Southworth, 44, was presumed dead by police and coroner's officials, who did not seek medical treatment for more than three hours after officers found her with severe blunt-force trauma injuries to her head and face on June 9.

She was found in bushes behind her home at 1486 Meadowthorpe Avenue, where she lived with her husband, Don Southworth, and their daughter, Almira Fawn Southworth, then 12. No one has been charged with Southworth's slaying.

An ambulance was not called until after coroner's officials realized that Southworth was alive. She was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, where she died the following afternoon.

The week after Southworth's death, Bastin admitted that there were errors made in the case. Thursday's statement reiterated that.

Bastin said the personnel and policy failures "were a direct result of the policy's failure to provide guidance to the responding officers about making the determination of death in the case of a possible or apparent death."

The inquiry determined that the responding officers "acted as guided by policy and in a manner consistent with their training," according to the release.

"Therefore, no specific disciplinary action has been or will be taken against any of the responding officers," Bastin's statement said.

In the summer, Bastin announced that a policy revision would be put in place to prevent similar mistakes.

That policy went into effect immediately, but it has been undergoing review by multiple agencies — including police, fire and coroner's officials — before becoming a permanent amendment, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts has said.

In an effort to prevent this type of failure from happening again, Bastin said, every member of the Division of Police will be trained about how to implement the new policy.

The policy, which was released with Bastin's statement, requires all officers at apparent homicides to contact the Division of Fire Emergency Services if medical personnel are not already on scene.

Officers are instructed to "minimize the contamination and alteration of the crime scene" by pointing out potential physical evidence to firefighters.

Fire department personnel will now make the determination of death and will be responsible for contacting the coroner, according to the policy.

The policy also requires officers to check for signs of life, including breathing or a pulse. Bastin has previously said he did not think officers checked for a pulse because of the severity of Southworth's injuries.

Bastin said the department takes "ownership of our actions" and makes no excuse "for the mistakes made in the handling of our response."

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service