Attorney for Alex Johnson's family asks for city investigation into 911 center's handling of calls

jmadden@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2014 

An attorney for the family of slain University of Kentucky chef Alex Johnson has asked for an investigation into the Lexington police department's Enhanced 911 call center.

Mark Wohlander, attorney for Lee and Judy Johnson of Bowling Green, sent a letter to the Urban County Council Public Safety Committee this week asking for an investigation into the call center, claiming that only one of two emergency calls the night of Johnson's disappearance was logged and the call was dispatched incorrectly.

"If they've got a call screener over there, that are not doing their jobs properly and as a result of that the police don't get the information to dispatch properly and somebody in the community gets hurt, that's problematic," Wohlander said.

Public Safety Committee chairwoman and Councilwoman Peggy Henson acknowledged she received the letter, but referred all questions to city officials.

"There's a pending criminal trial and possible civil action," said Susan Straub, the city's spokeswoman. "I can't comment."

Wohlander's request for an investigation into the 911 unit came about a week after the Herald-Leader reported that police did not interview two witnesses who told the family's private investigator they saw a man being beaten in a car on North Hanover, where Johnson vanished from his apartment Dec. 20. One person heard what one described as his "blood curdling" screams.

"Stop, you're killing me," the man yelled, according to an account one witness gave Steve O'Daniel, the private investigator.

"I certainly don't want what happened to Alex to happen to somebody else," Wohlander said.

Alex Johnson, 32, was at his apartment on the phone with his girlfriend, Lisa Horobin, that evening when he answered a knock on the door. Horobin told police she heard a man she recognized as Robert Markham Taylor tell Johnson, "Come downstairs. I've got a surprise for you."

Johnson told Horobin "Mark is here," and that he would call her back later, according to court documents.

Taylor, 28, was charged weeks later with murder, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence in the beating death of Johnson.

Timothy Ballard is charged with kidnapping, tampering with evidence and being a persistent felon.

Taylor and Ballard, 42, have pleaded not guilty.

In the letter dated March 31, Wohlander said the two calls weren't taken seriously and if they were Johnson would still be alive.

According to police documents reviewed by the Herald-Leader, one call was made to 911 Dec. 20 at 8:48 p.m. and was dispatched at 8:50 as an "attempt to locate." The call was cleared at 8:55 p.m.

Wohlander said he thinks that if the call had been classified as an assault instead of an attempt to locate, police would have responded differently and witnesses would have been interviewed.

On Dec. 23 Cayce Johnson, sister of Alex Johnson, called police to report him missing. His body was found in the Kentucky River Jan. 24 by search crews.

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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