Claims of botched 911 call prompt investigation into Charleston County dispatch center

This 2011 file photo shows a dispatcher at Charleston County's Consolidated 911 Center. Buy this photo

Ira Lewis of Mount Pleasant thought he was doing his civic duty when he called 911 twice on Aug. 25 to report a group of burglars trying to break into his neighbor’s home before dawn.

Twice, Lewis said, a Charleston County emergency dispatcher told him that help was on the way. Twice, no one showed up.

“They could have caught them,” he said. “That’s what makes me mad.”

Lewis said he called Mount Pleasant police a few hours later to ask why no one came. Police didn’t know what he was talking about. The dispatch center never told them about the calls, authorities said.

The incident has prompted the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office to launch an investigation into the handling of calls for service by the Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 Center. The investigation was begun Aug. 28 at the request of Charleston County government, authorities said.

Sheriff’s Maj. Jim Brady would not comment on the probe or whether it extends beyond the calls placed by Lewis, citing the ongoing investigation. An incident report filed by the sheriff’s office notes that the investigation involves activity at the center beginning July 1, well before the episode in question.

Lewis said the incident started when his wife went out on the porch of their home in the Cooper Estates subdivision around 4:30 a.m. after back pain left her unable to sleep.

She heard a thumping sound and saw two or three men jump a fence between the neighboring homes, using flashlight apps on their phones to guide them, Lewis said. They then ran to his neighbor’s home and started trying to get in through the back door, he said.

Lewis’ wife called to him and he grabbed his pistol. By the time he got outside, the noise had alerted the intruders and they ran to a Chevy sedan that pulled to the curb a few houses down, Lewis said. He saw three people get in the car.

He called 911 and asked a dispatcher to send police as he and his wife jumped in the car and attempted to get a license plate number on the car.

“I said ‘Please send a cruiser,’” he said. “But nobody ever showed up.”

At about 5:15 a.m., Lewis’ wife noticed that the getaway car had returned. Apparently, the thieves had left one of their own behind in their haste, a man who been lying in the bushes while the Lewises waited for the police to arrive, Lewis said.

“We called 911 again and said ‘Where are the police? You could have caught this guy. He’s been laying in the bushes for the past 45 minutes,’ ” Lewis said.

Again, no one came, Lewis said.

Lewis said he finally called Mount Pleasant police around 9 a.m. and was told police had no record of any call for service to his home.

Mount Pleasant police Inspector Chris Helms confirmed that no calls for service had been logged at or near that address. The police department quickly notified the county dispatch center regarding concerns about the incident, he said.

On Aug. 26, The Post and Courier first requested copies of the 911 calls Lewis placed that morning. The county has declined to turn over those recordings to the newspaper, citing the ongoing investigation.

“It is important to address all citizen concerns, and the county takes these situations very seriously,” Charleston County spokesman Shawn Smetana said. “We appreciate the public bringing this matter to our attention, and have asked the Sheriff’s Office to look into it so we can take any necessary actions.”

Lewis said no one from the county has contacted him yet about the ongoing probe.

“We’re still hanging out here,” he said. “We haven’t seen a police officer yet.”

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.

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