Gregory C. Shipe was shot in the head last month not far from his Northwest Washington home.
Bloodied and unconscious, he was dying, if not already dead, when the first caller phoned 911.
But for 14 minutes after that call, the District's 911 center treated the case more like an accidental fall than a homicide, a city investigation has found.
Based on the caller's statements that the victim was incoherent and covered with blood, a police dispatcher classified the emergency as an "unconscious person." The dispatcher ignored other information from the caller that suggested a shooting had taken place.
Only after emergency medical workers found Shipe dead and reported the obvious evidence of a shooting did the police operator raise the status of the call to Priority 1, triggering an immediate police response.
By then the shooter or shooters had been on the run for at least 15 minutes. D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who requested the investigation, said the minutes that were lost might have made a critical difference for police.
"The sooner you get to the scene . . . the better chance you have of catching somebody," Graham said yesterday.
No arrests have been made in the slaying of Shipe, 34, who was attacked while walking his dog the night of Sept. 17 in the 1700 block of Irving Street NW, in Mount Pleasant. Police said Shipe was shot at close range and died at the scene.
Shipe's wallet was not taken, but police have said they suspect that the shooting was the result of a botched robbery attempt.
Graham said neighbors contacted his office after the shooting to say they were concerned that the emergency response had been slow. Graham asked the D.C. Office of Unified Communications, which oversees the operation of 911 and 311 call centers, to investigate.
In a letter to Graham this week, the office's interim director, E. Michael Latessa, detailed the mishandling of the call and said officials have recommended that the operator be disciplined "for failing to properly prioritize a call for police service."
The letter provided a chronology of the events, which started when a person living on the block where the shooting occurred called 911 about 10:40 p.m. The caller told a police operator that a man was in front of a building, incoherent and covered with blood.
The police operator patched an emergency medical services operator into the call. After asking several questions, the EMS operator said emergency medical units would respond.
With both operators listening, the caller then said he had heard a "pop." Asked if it sounded like a gunshot, the caller said he did not know what a gunshot sounds like. The caller went on to say that the person appeared to have been dead for a while.
Despite the signs of a possible shooting, the police operator classified the incident as a Priority 2 call.
Such calls are supposed to be dispatched to a police officer within 15 minutes, Latessa said, and an officer did arrive after 14 minutes.
But after listening to the recording and interviewing the operators, Latessa concluded that it should have been a Priority 1 call, meaning it should have been dispatched within about a minute.
"After reviewing the tape, one could infer from the information that was being given that it was potentially a shooting," Latessa said in an interview yesterday.
In his letter, Latessa said authorities now will give Priority 1 status to all calls involving "unconscious persons."