Lawsuits say county was negligent in Mo. officer's death after 911 mistake
The lawsuits accuse the county of failing to properly train dispatchers, not warning officers that errors happened and not ensuring the 911 mapping system was accurate
By Glenn E. Rice
The Kansas City Star
HENRY COUNTY, Mo. — Four joint lawsuits allege Henry County was negligent and its 911 emergency system was faulty when Clinton, Missouri, police officers were sent to the wrong address in March 2018.
The mistake led to a gun battle that left Officer Christopher Ryan Morton dead and two other officers injured. The man who shot them was also killed.
The lawsuits, filed earlier this year in Henry County, accuse the county of failing to properly train dispatchers on locating where 911 calls originated, not warning officers that errors had happened and could occur, and not ensuring the 911 mapping system was accurate and up-to-date.
Named as defendants in the suit are Henry County 911 Emergency Communications and Harris Systems USA, which is also known as Caliber Public Safety. The company provided Henry County its 911 emergency system.
Clinton, MO, Police Officer Christopher Ryan Morton, served with distinction for the citizens of Clinton as a full-time Police Officer from 2/12/2015 until 1/10/2017. He stayed with the department as reserve officer until he returned again to full time duty 9/24/2017. #ClintonPD pic.twitter.com/3XCzgL5kUK— MSHP Troop A (@MSHPTrooperA) March 7, 2018
“Defendants should have known that Caliber’s system provided inaccurate call locations in a significant number of occasions prior to the call,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuits allege the “defendants breached their duties by failing to exercise reasonable and ordinary care and were grossly negligent by failing to prevent the death of Officer Morton.”
In response, attorneys representing the defendants deny the allegations and said the plaintiffs could not offer any evidence that the Caliber’s products were “defective or unreasonably dangerous.”
Also named as defendants are several individuals: Kristin Jones, listed as the director of the Henry County 911 center; Ken Scott, chairman of the 911 center; Spencer Townsend, a dispatcher; and Dana Hale, another dispatcher.
The plaintiffs are identified in court records as Nathan Bettencourt, Scott Brandt, Jackson S. Lawson and the parents of Morton.
Attorneys representing plaintiffs and defendants could not be reached for comment Monday.
The shooting unfolded March 6, 2018 after emergency dispatchers mistakenly sent officers to 306 W. Grandriver St. in Clinton because of a 911 call made 20 miles away.
Arriving officers were met on the porch by a woman later identified as Tammy D. Widger. She told the three officers that no one was inside the residence, and that there was no emergency.
However, a gun battle erupted moments later.
A man inside the home, later identified as James Waters, fatally wounded Officer Christopher Ryan Morton and injured two others in a shooting, police said. Waters also died in the incident.
The shooting devastated Clinton, a city about 80 miles southeast of Kansas City, where a police officer had been killed during a traffic stop just seven months earlier.
She was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Widger and Waters were involved in dealing drugs, leading to the three officers being shot. Investigators found methamphetamine and other drugs in the home after the shooting.
©2019 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)