Cop faulted in murder-suicide promoted to sergeant

Cop faulted in murder-suicide is promoted to sergeant

June 15, 2008 – 12:58AM

   A Colorado Springs police officer who was faulted for her handling of an apparent death threat two days before a woman’s slaying in March has been selected for promotion.

    Dedra Phillips, a nine-year veteran of the Police Department, will be promoted to sergeant in July, police said.

    Sergeants are first-line supervisors who oversee teams of officers in patrol, the Investigations Division and other areas. They are chosen in a competitive process involving testing and interviews.

    Police announced their decision June 7 – the same week an internal review determined Phillips did not properly investigate a March 17 call from Colleen Dwyer, a 34-year-old mother of four who called police after a call from her estranged husband.

    Two days later, Dwyer was fatally shot by 39-year-old Russell Dwyer, who then committed suicide. Their bodies lay within a few feet of each other outside their former home in northeast Colorado Springs, where Colleen Dwyer had gone to pick up their children.

    “Obviously, the timing is unfortunate,” police spokesman Lt. Skip Arms said of the promotion.

    Police do not think the officer could have prevented Dwyer’s slaying, he said.

    Phillips has been on a waiting list of candidates for sergeant since she underwent testing in November 2006. She was chosen last week from a group of 15 officers vying for five vacancies.

    The applicants were picked after interviews with the department’s top brass – a panel of Police Chief Richard Myers and his three deputy chiefs. The group made the final decision, Arms said.

    The March 17 call from Colleen Dwyer was the latest in a series of domestic disturbances she reported to police and the courts alleging harassment, intimidation and other behavior by Russell Dwyer.

    According to the internal review, Colleen Dwyer reported that she and Russell Dwyer were sparring over their taxes on the phone when he told her, “I hope you are ready to take a bullet,” and then hung up.

    Phillips concluded the statement could be interpreted as a reference to the woman’s tax return.

    She noted Colleen Dwyer did not appear scared and casually used the phrase, “I might have to take a bullet on that one,” suggesting it was “consistent with their pattern of speech.”

    Phillips closed her investigation without interviewing Russell Dwyer. The officer couldn’t explain why she did not take that step, police said.

    “Her answer was that she thought about talking to him and why she didn’t, she doesn’t know,” Lt. Alan Scott wrote in a summary of his internal investigation into Phillips’ handling of the threat.

    Police Commander Tish Olszewski, who reviewed Scott’s report, found “shortcomings” in Phillips’ investigation and determined Phillips violated patrol policies and procedures.

    Olszewski did not elaborate about the failures in a June 3 memo to Myers.

    “It was evident the officer had good intentions on this call,” she wrote in the two-paragraph memo. “However, there were areas where the officer and the reviewing supervisor could have done better.”

    Police took “appropriate administrative action” against Phillips and her supervisor, Sgt. Dennis Dougan.

    Police say state law bars them from disclosing disciplinary actions.

    Arms said there is no evidence police “inaction” led to Dwyer’s slaying.

    Russell Dwyer could have posted bond within hours had he been arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor harassment, the highest charge possible for a threat made over the phone, Arms said.

    “Everything was taken into consideration, and when you look at the whole package, we still went forward with the promotion,” he said.

    Arms said Phillips’ handling of the call was defended in a June 7 letter from Kathie Price, the mother of Colleen Dwyer, and officer Alan Price, Colleen’s brother. Police provided the letter with Price’s permission.

    Price, of Colorado Springs, wrote that she warned her daughter for more than a year that “this would happen.”

    She persuaded her daughter to file a restraining order in August, but Colleen Dwyer dropped it, she said.

    “She just wouldn’t listen,” Kathie Price wrote. “The officers did everything they could and should have done – of that I am certain. Please don’t let this be a black mark on their records.”

    The letter was written the day police announced disciplinary action against Phillips and Dougan. Price asked that it be reversed: “It is tearing me apart to think others have to suffer for what Russell did. My daughter would not have had it any other way.”

Source: Colorado Springs Gazette

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