Murder victim’s family files suit against the City of Denver over slow response time
(The Denver Channel.com) DENVER, Colo. – Family members of a Denver woman, who was murdered in 2012, allege that there are systemic problems in the city’s emergency 911 system that need to be fixed.
In an amended complaint filed Friday, the family of Loretta Barela claims that by failing to prioritize a domestic violence call, the city, four emergency communications operators and two police officers denied Barela equal protection under the law, when her husband beat and strangled her on November 18, 2012.
During the lengthy assault, the victim, who lived at 1535 South Carlan Court, briefly escaped and ran to a neighbor’s house clad only in blue jeans.
She pounded on the door and pleaded for help. Her husband, Christopher Perea, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her back to their house.
The neighbor called 911 twice, but police weren’t dispatched for more than an hour.
Court documents show the first call was made at 1:56 a.m. When no officers arrived, she called again at 2:45 a.m. and was told, “We haven’t forgotten about you, we’ve just been extremely busy tonight.”
The family’s attorney told 7NEWS that the only other incidents going on in District 4 at that time were a robbery and two traffic accidents.
Court documents also show that police weren’t actually dispatched until 3:03 a.m., one hour and seven minutes after the first 911 call.
The two officers who responded knocked on Barela’s door, but no one answered.
They walked around the outside of the house, heard nothing and left.
Five hours later, Perea called 911 and told police, “I think I killed her.”
Perea was ultimately convicted of first degree murder, first degree felony murder and second degree kidnapping for his part in Barela’s death. He received multiple life sentences.
Three days after the murder, family members told 7NEWS that police didn’t do their job.
“If they would have responded the first time, my mom could have been alive,” said Ray Rosa, the victim’s son.
Barela may well have been alive when police knocked on the door.
Roth says the Coroner’s report shows an estimated time of death between 4 and 6 a.m.
“It took a substantial amount of time just to have police dispatched to the scene and then very little to no investigation was done once they got there,” said David Roth, the family’s attorney. “The result was that it gave Perea ample time to beat and strangle his wife to death.”
Roth says Denver is pinning the whole break down on one emergency communications operator who ultimately resigned.
“Chief (Robert) White had a meeting with the family after they were protesting and said that an investigation would be done,” Roth said. “Once the dispatcher resigned, the city immediately took the stance that it was an isolated incident and no more investigation was completed.”
Roth believes it was more than an “isolated incident.”
He points to the April 2012 killing of Sudanese refugee Jimma Reat, who was told by a dispatcher to drive back to Denver to file a report and talk to police about a road rage incident. When he did, he was shot to death.
Roth also points to the April 2014 killing of Kristine Kirk, who was on the phone talking to a 911 operator when her husband, who was allegedly high on marijuana, shot and killed her.
“This is clearly a systemic problem and really the City and County of Denver needs to do something about it,” Roth said. “Trying to continually hold these out as isolated incidents, that’s sad and irritating.”
When asked about the claims in the lawsuit, Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez said, “We do not comment on pending litigation but take every claim seriously.”