The parents and fiance of University of Wisconsin junior Brittany Zimmermann filed suit Dane County, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and 911 Center dispatcher Rita Gahagan on Jan. 13 for negligence concerning her death.
Kevin and Jean Zimmermann and Jordan Gonnering, Zimmermann’s fiance, filed the lawsuit, accusing Falk of failing to update equipment in the 911 Center.
MTG Management Consultants sent Falk a reformation plan in March 2004, advising Falk to update the 911 Center’s outdated equipment.
Although the computer programs used to indicate the location of cell phone calls placed to the 911 Center was outdated, the family alleges Falk ignored the request.
Brittany Zimmermann was stabbed in her home on 517 W. Doty St. on April 2 after a call to the 911 Center’s emergency line was placed from her cell phone.
“The family believes that the county was negligent in handling the call and had, for quite some time, known about the problem of the 911 Call Center — for years — and has not done anything about it,” said Robert Elliot, attorney for Kevin and Jean Zimmermann.
In an interview last week with The Badger Herald, Falk denied these claims, saying the county went “above and beyond” the recommendations made by MTG.
Since MTG’s report was released in 2004, Dane County has increased its 911 Center operating budget by nearly $2 million.
Dane County officials and Falk are also accused of furthering the emotional distress of Kevin and Jean Zimmermann by publicly denying Brittany Zimmermann called the 911 Center prior to her death. However, within seven hours of Zimmermann’s death, Dane County officials and Falk were aware of the placed phone call.
When Dane County officials admitted the call was placed, they issued a public statement saying “nothing was heard.”
However, the lawsuit states “there were clear, audible sounds of distress on the phone call from Brittany Zimmermann.”
Gahagan, the 911 Center dispatcher at the time of Zimmermann’s murder, allegedly mishandled Brittany Zimmermann’s phone call by inadequately following the proper rules and procedures of the 911 Center.
“I found no evidence that Gahagan heard but chose not to react to sounds possible indicating an emergency. Nor do I find evidence that Gahagan was attending to any other matter that would have limited her attention to this call,” Rich McVicar, operations manager of the 911 Center, wrote in an investigation report regarding Zimmermann’s murder.
On Dec. 22, Kathy Krusiec, interim director of the 911 Center, suspended Gahagan, a 20-year veteran with the 911 Center who was reassigned to a different position within the Dane County administration, from work without pay for three days for mishandling Zimmermann’s phone call.
AFSCME-Local 720, the union Gahagan is part of, filed a complaint regarding Gahagan’s suspension.
“We filed a grievance with the county based on a discipline that was rendered,” said Shannon Maier, a union representative.
Judge Richard Niess issued an oral ruling, allowing the Jan. 9 release of a severely edited recording of the phone call made to the 911 Center by Gonnering on the day of Zimmermann’s homicide.
The recording of the call from Zimmermann’s phone and parts of Gonnering’s call have been withheld so the investigation of the case is not damaged.
“In particular, in this case, the responses of public officials to the 911 failure in Ms. Zimmermann’s case, not just the court and city officials, but other officials who have evaluated this situation, have been clumsy at best,” Niess said.