Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hindsight & second guesses

There have been many questions asked, many still unanswered in the Petit family murders. Too often though, hindsight is much clearer and second guessing, a game for armchair quarterbacks.

The Connecticut State police and the Cheshire police have not released transcripts of the 911 calls made during that day, nor have they made specific statements as to the timeline either. What is known, is what has been gathered from witness accounts.

The center of the questions and debate is what happened between 9:20 am, the approximate time that the bank manager called 911, to 10:01 am, the time listed in the court records as to when Hayes and Komisarjevsky were apprehended a block from the Petit home.

"When you look at a situation, you can't go based on what you know today. If there is an active hostage situation, you have to ask, can you accomplish more by stepping back and trying to make contact with people inside the house," stated Ansonia Police Chief Kevin J Hale, current president of the Connecticut
Police Chiefs Association.

Authorities believe that the suspects entered the Petit home through basement bulkhead about 3 am. Early on Monday morning, Hayes left to fill gas cans and later still, possibly between 6 am and 7 am, Komisarjevsky called in sick to his job at hartford Restoration Services. According to sources with knowledge of the call to the East Hartford roofing company, he claimed that his 5 year-old daughter, Jayda, was sick.

New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington has ordered police not to discuss any specific timeline or details in an effort to not jeopardize the prosecution. What has been released has been gathered from law enforcement sources, witness interviews and information that has been already released. From that, this is the suspected timeline of events of that tragic morning.

Under a possible threat to her life and the lives of her children, Jennifer withdrew $15,000 from a local Bank of America branch at 9:20 am while one of the suspects waited for her outside. A bank manager there called 911 shortly afterwards and while police haven't released a copy of the call, they stated that the manager reported a "suspisious withdrawal."

Cheshire police officers responded to both the bank and the Petit home according to state police. It takes 7-12 minutes to drive from the bank in Maplecroft Plaza at 185 Highland Ave to the Petit home at the posted travel speeds and it takes 8-12 minutes to drive from the Cheshire Police Department at 500 Highland Ave, at the posted speeds.

John Gnagey, a national expert on hostage situations and police tactics stated that it appears that the first responding officers were attempting to establish a secure perimeter, which would be reasonable protocol.

"You don't just go barging in. You don't know if you have exigent circumstances. You get there and try to corroborate any information you have," stated Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association in Doylestown PA.

Walter Ryan of 295 Sorgum Mill Rd, was outside walking his dog at about the time the morning's events unfolded. He stated that he estimates it was about 20 minutes from when he saw a uniformed Cheshire officer in the woods behind the Petit home to when the suspects ran from the home. The court records show that they were arrested at 10:01 am after they crashed the the Petit's family vehicle into one officer's car and then into the police roadblock that had been set up at the intersection of Sorgum Mill Rd and Burrage Court, a block from the home.

After the suspects had fled, officers went around to the first-floor windows, banging on them in an effort to alert the occupents. Ryan stated that he didn't witness any officers entering the rapidly burning home at that time and reports indicate that another neighbor called 911 to report the fire.

The debate continues as to how the police responded to the situation and not all law enforcement members have been quick to praise Cheshire. One law enforcement source stated that it was a judgement call that had to be made, a decision that may eat at some of the officers now that they know what had gone on in the house.

Gnagey though has stated that setting up a secure perimeter and attempting to make contact with the suspects is often standard protocol. He added that ninety-five percent of hostage situations are resolved through negotiation and it often takes about 45 minutes for a non-full time SWAT team to assemble after a call. Gnagey did state that a situation such as this, basically leaves the officers damned if they do - damned if they don't depending on the outcome.

What has come to light is that police had 41 minutes approximately, to respond to an unknown, possible hostage situation. Subtract the minimum of seven minutes for arrival time and one is left with 34 minutes of time on scene. I have to believe that the police believed that they had a possible hostage situation and for that reason, they didn't just drive into the Petit driveway and and go up to knock on the front door. Instead, time was used to walk the perimeter of the home to assess the situation and I will just arbitrarily deduct 5 minutes of time for that to occur, leaving 29 minutes.

Police had no way of knowing what was going on in the home and by securing the surroundings and waiting for a SWAT team, one that would be better trained to handle situations like that is a reasonable choice. From the released information though, I believe that the suspects had already planned to kill the family and burn the home to possibly destroy evidence. It is unknown though, what may have triggered them to seemingly escalate their plan when they did.

I do think it is important to note though, William Petit Jr has not at anytime, faulted the response time of the police and looking at my conservative guess, they were on scene, facing an unknown situation for 34 to 29 minutes. That time includes time to assess the situation and time for the suspects to run, ram the car through a roadblock and finally, be arrested at 10:01 am.

Of note as well is the debate that continues as to whether Kamisarjevsky should have been paroled. As I noted in my previous post, he was described as a model parolee. He also had won a court battle for sole custody of the daughter who was born a month after he was sentenced to prison originally, six weeks before the murders.

Although Jennifer Norton, 22, has not had a good relationship with Kamisarjevsky in recent years, she also had stated that she had never thought of him as a violent person. Jayda was born at Bristol Hospital March 15 2002, when Norton was 16 and Komisarjevsky was 21. Norton and the child lived with her parents until Christmas Day 2003, when they moved in with Norton's boyfriend in Bristol.

In April 2005, he sought joint custody of his daughter and that was granted. Jayda was placed with his parents every other weekend with his parents and it was stipulated that she not be brought to visit him in prison. After his expected release in September 2005, he was to have custody of her every other weekend and have that supervised by his parents for the first six months. In early September 2006, he filed a motion for contempt, stating that he was not being allowed visitation. It was in May that he found out that Jayda had spent a week with Norton's parents while she was placed in a crisis intervention unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital, evidently for erratic behavior at the methadone clinic she receives her dosages at.

Family court records show that last January, Komisarjevsky was earning $648 a week as a roofing foreman and had $3,400 in the bank. His child support payments were raised from $80 a week to $126 a week. A friend of his speculated that he was becoming increasingly depressed about his girlfriend moving south and the mounting expenses of raising his daughter. She felt that this could have led him back towards drug use and she as well didn't feel that he was capable of the crimes he is charged with now.

That female friend did state though, she would believe anyone who stated that he had begun breaking into homes again, because that's what he did. Police now believe that is exactly what Hayes and Komisarjevsky had begun. They believe that the pair broke into the home of Ronald Bergamo Jr, across town on 84 Glenbrook Dr at approximately 3 am, Sunday while the family and another visiting couple slept.

They believe that the pair also broke into the home of Bergamo's neighbor, David Hick early Sunday morning while they slept as well. It is reported that $150 cash and some items that were found later in a dumpster, were taken from the Bergamo home. Hick stated that cash, credit cards, a cell phone and disturbingly, a photo of Hick and his wife were stolen. The two men have not been charged with those two break-ins but they are said to be part of the ongoing criminal investigation.

It may be easy to use hindsight and state what should have been done in this case but it may be a long time before we know all of what actually happened, if ever.

For my previous posts on the Petit case, go here, here and here. A new post, go here.

Update: posted Sept 17

A Superior Court judge has postponed the probably cause hearing set for Tuesday for Hayes and Komisarjevsky. Motions were filed last week by defense attorneys for both men citing they both needed to review a "good deal of discovery material" and conduct further investigations.

Judge Richard A Damiani agreed to continue the hearing until November 6th and neither suspect was in court for today's ruling.

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