911 operator knew man in Pittsburgh case was armed

By Dan Nephin
Associated Press / April 8, 2009
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PITTSBURGH - Three police officers killed while answering a call about a woman fighting with her son didn't know the man had weapons, but a 911 operator did. She just didn't tell anyone.

The operator, who was hired in November, should have asked for more information and didn't relay even the basic information she had to police dispatchers, the official in charge of county dispatchers said. She is now on paid administrative leave and is receiving counseling because supervisors are concerned about her well-being.

The three officers killed Saturday morning will lie in state at the City-County Building today, and all three will be honored at a memorial service tomorrow. Richard Poplawski, 22, is under close observation at the Allegheny County Jail on criminal homicide, attempted homicide, and other charges, said Warden Ramon Rustin.

Robert Full, Allegheny County Chief of Emergency Services, said the 911 operator is too distraught to be interviewed, so officials don't fully understand why she didn't press for more information about the guns. She apparently inferred the weapons weren't a factor because her conversation with the mother was casual and because Poplawski did not report being threatened, he said.

"If we were told there were weapons in the house, we should have told that to the police officers," Full said.

When officers arrived at the house, Margaret Poplawski opened the door for them. She later told police that she didn't know that her 22-year-old son was standing behind her with a gun.

Police say Richard Poplawski shot officer Paul Sciullo II, 37, in the home and officer Stephen Mayhle, 29, on the front stoop within seconds. He then shot officer Eric Kelly, 41, in the street as he arrived to back them up, prompting a four-hour siege and gun battle with police, authorities said.

Police said Poplawski was wearing a bulletproof vest and was armed with a variety of weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle, although they have declined to say what kind of weapon he used to kill the officers.

He is also charged with firing into two neighboring homes, injuring nobody, and at nine other police officers, including one who was wounded as he tended to Kelly. Poplawski faces an April 17 preliminary hearing. His public defender has declined to discuss the case.

A specialist on 911 procedures said dispatchers generally should relay as much unfiltered data to police as possible.

County Council's Public Safety panel plans to meet next week to review 911 policies to "have a better understanding of how and why this happened," Councilman Jim Burn said yesterday.