When Sheriff Ron Krebs heard about a major oversight during a 911 call, he says he was “livid.”
And now he is doing everything he can to ensure it will never happen again.
“We have very good dispatchers and very good deputies,” said Krebs during a town hall meeting on Feb. 24 in Eastsound. “The system is not broken, it just needs to be improved. We are streamlining the process.”
Assaulted at gun point in the middle of the night in his home on Orcas Island, Josh Mayson and his family were stunned when a sheriff’s deputy didn’t arrive to investigate until 8:30 a.m. the next morning.
Mayson, a newly hired OPALCO apprentice lineman, was staying in a vacation rental cabin when a masked, gloved assailant allegedly came into his home around 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 9. The men allegedly held a gun to Mayson’s head, threatened to kill him and his daughter and said he had “stolen” the job at OPALCO. The assailant also said he had “had nothing left to live for” and was “not afraid to die.”
Mayson texted his brother just after the intruder left. His brother came to the cabin, where they together called 911. They both spoke with the dispatcher who, after calling the sergeant, allegedly said that since the gunman had left there was no need to wake the deputy on-call.
Two days after Mayson was assaulted, on Feb. 11, death threats were found written on the OPALCO headquarters building in Eastsound. All employees were immediately sent home and the offices on Orcas, Lopez and Friday Harbor were shut down for a day. The two incidents are believed to be connected.
The Skagit County Sheriff’s office is conducting an internal investigation of San Juan County’s handling of the 911 call on Feb. 9. The results will be made public once the review is complete. Krebs says the name of the dispatcher and sergeant in Friday Harbor will not be released.
“I acknowledge a mistake was made,” said Krebs. “And no one is trying to justify the mistake.”
In the past, when deputies are not patrolling (usually between the hours of 3 and 6 a.m.), a dispatcher will call a sergeant to determine whether or not a deputy should be paged. Krebs says that while this has historically been successful, it is now time to change procedure. Dispatchers will no longer have to ask permission to send out a deputy.
“I have told our dispatchers to err on the side of caution. It is never wrong to send somebody out to a call,” Krebs said.
The dispatch center for San Juan County is based in Friday Harbor and receives all fire department, EMS and police emergency calls. It also handles OPALCO outages. In 2015, it took 15,000 calls, which breaks down to between 40 and 50 per day. When Krebs was elected to sheriff in 2014, he implemented new training practices for all dispatchers. Instead of an online course, they attend classes on the mainland and learn from professionals in the field. With recent funding from the county, the sheriff’s office can now afford to have two dispatchers on call 24 hours a day.
“If we’d had two dispatchers on call that night, I strongly feel that this would not have been botched,” Krebs said.
Starting in September 2016, the police force on Orcas will go from five to six, when the new deputy finishes his academy training. Some in the audience questioned why there isn’t 24/7 police coverage. According to Krebs, there is always someone ready to respond. During that brief window in the early morning hours, deputies are paid a percentage of their wage to be “gear ready,” which means they have 10 minutes to get dressed and leave for a call.
Pierette Guimond asked why the sheriff’s office doesn’t pay for patrolling every hour of the day. Krebs said it would cost the county upwards of $1.5 million for the additional staff time. Others in attendance spoke of the dedication displayed by local deputies. Marla Johns, who is married to an Orcas police officer, said her husband responds to calls even on days off and in the middle of family functions.
On the morning of Feb. 9, when Krebs was notified of the home invasion incident, he and detective Lachlan Buchanan came to Orcas for interviews with Mayson and his family.
Since then, they have looked at handwriting samples of current and past employees of OPALCO and everyone who applied for the apprentice lineman position. They have also conducted dozens of interviews. Krebs said the anonymous tip line is receiving calls every day, but there are currently no suspects.
“Anyone who did this has a tremendous amount of anger and very local knowledge,” he said.
Security cameras at the OPALCO building did not record footage of who wrote bomb and death threats on the walls. The camera system is in the process of being upgraded.
“This has rattled us to the core,” said OPALCO General Manager Foster Hildreth at the meeting.
The reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the assailant has now reached $25,000 thanks to a $10,000 donation from OPALCO and community contributions.
Anyone with information is urged to call the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department at 378-4151 or the anonymous tip line at 370-7629.
“No tip is too small,” Krebs said. “We need the community’s help to ID this person.”