Rock Center   |  May 17, 2013

Dallas 911 operator breaks silence on Deanna Cook case

Tonyita Hopkins breaks her silence on answering the chilling 911 call in which Deanna Cook is heard pleading for her life. Hopkins describes a 911 call center that was short-staffed and overwhelmed and reveals her surprising personal history that draws parallels to Cook. Kate Snow reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

at lowe's. as we continue our report, here's the question -- did a 911 operator in dallas listen to a woman fight for her life over the telephone and fail to help her? the victim's family fears that's exactly what happened here. dallas police seem to lay the blame at the operator's feet. tonight, she tells her side of this story for the first time. and what she reveals adds yet another layer to this tragedy. here again, kate snow .

>> dallas 911. this is tanita , what is your emergency.

>> reporter: she's the voice, the 911 operator on the chilling end of the other call where deanna was pleading for her life.

>> reporter: this is the first time that tanita hopkins has let a camera anywhere near her family since last summer when she fwhent to hiding. as far as most folks in dallas were concerned, tanita listened to a woman being killed and did nothing.

>> they blame you. they said deanna cook died because of a botched 911 call that was mishandled by you.

>> i didn't blame people for thinking that because they don't know all of the information. at the end of the day somebody lost a daughter, mother and sister. that was what was important to me.

>> reporter: just like the cook family t family tanita wants to know why the system failed her. from the start there were problems on that day deanna called 911.

>> you signed up for overtime that day.

>> yes.

>> why?

>> because we were short staffed.

>> you pick up the first call.

>> and the first call was that call.

>> i need an address.

>> deanna called from a cell phone so tanita didn't have an exact address only a street name crimson court. she sent that to the dispatcher, as well as the code for domestic violence .

>> when the dispatcher sees that note they are supposed to what.

>> they should be dispatching within three minutes.

>> that's how it is supposed to work.

>> that's how it is supposed to work.

>> reporter: she kept looking for an exact address and found a match in the system because denan called 911 before.

>> once i found the address i was relieved and i was thinking okay she will get the help she needs.

>> reporter: nine minutes in to the call, tanita sent the house number to the dispatcher along with the word urgent.

>> i typed in urgent and i typed in address updated. still hear disturbance in background, nothing that effect.

>> reporter: painful to listen to. you hear a woman who sounds like she is struggling for her life. and the obvious question is how could you not stand up and scream and say, i have to get somebody to this person right now?

>> i didn't hear it. if i heard as much as you are saying, then i would have.

>> reporter: did you hear deanna choke something.

>> no. i did not hear anything that sounded like her choking, no.

>> reporter: just before 8 1/2 minutes in to the call, a male voice , presumably dell vek coe says i'll kill you, i'll kill you.

>> i didn't hear that.

>> reporter: not only was she distracted trying to find an address, tanita says the head sets that 911 operators in dallas use don't black out background noise . if you have 20 operators in a room and they are all talking and some yelling and a buzzer buzzing because there are calls can holding, all of that plus you are trying to hear.

>> what's your address?

>> what i did hear initially was the screaming. to me, that was enough to get the police there.

>> reporter: but the emergency dispatch system was break down, too. a confidential police report shows no one in the dispatch room had been reading any of tanita 's notes and even when she sthaent urgent message, 26 minutes went by before officers finally started to head toward deanna 's house. and still no urgency. no lights or sirens. on the way, according to the officers, they stopped at 7-eleven to buy water. deanna 's sister.

>> what made them think it was okay to stop and get something to drink for a domestic violence call period.

>> reporter: it was 11:45 , nearly an hour after deanna called 911 when two female officers arrived at her home on crimson court. no one answered the doompl they left within five minutes.

>> knocked on the door, asked some people around the neighborhood and left.

>> reporter: didn't go around the back of the house.

>> no.

>> reporter: check the back door?

>> no.

>> reporter: officers say they didn't go in the backyard because they heard a dog barking . it was deanna 's chihuahua.

>> they didn't check nothing. they didn't look nowhere. they just left. that's not right.

>> reporter: no one knows exactly when deanna died, but the medical examiner concluded that deanna was alive up until she was drowned in the bathtub the plain truth is she was alive nine minutes. could you hear her voice on the call? that we know. if somebody had arrived within nine minutes they could have potentially stopped what happened.

>> yes.

>> reporter: that is what haunts deanna 's family.

>> if they would have responded as soon as they could they would have been at the corner and as soon as they got the address they could have been there. i think my sister's life could have been saved if they took domestic violence as seriously as they should have. the cook family says there were so many failures so many people to blachlt several people were reprimanded. police chief brown publicly singled out tanita hopkins for failing to enter critical information in to the computer.

>> go ahead and add that.

>> reporter: she resigned an says no one in the department has ever told her what else she could have done.

>> i wanted to know what critical information should i have entered if i'm being punished for something then i need to know why.

>> reporter: were you thrown under the bus?

>> i don't know. i was thinking that i was possibly used as a scapegoat.

>> reporter: no one in the dispatch room was disciplined than two police officers who went to deanna 's home were not investigated. we wanted to speak to police chief brown about how the department handled the deanna cook case. why it took 50 minutes for officers to finally arrive at their home. when we showed up for our scheduled interview, we were told he had to cancel. who failed deanna cook?

>> i think we all failed deanna cook.

>> reporter: mike recallings is the mayor.

>> they are alleging it is different if you call some low-income neighborhood and you are black versus somebody that is calling from a gated community . you say that is not so.

>> no, it is not. the facts don't bear that out. it doesn't matter. they lost their daughter. it is a terrible situation.

>> people are going to hear that tape and go, are you kidding me? how on earth did the sirens not go blaring to her house? ? it will outrage people.

>> good. because that happens to women every nine seconds. if people get outraged if that is what it takes at least her death will mean something.

>> we're here to say enough is enough.

>> reporter: the mayor is campaigning to raise awareness about domestic violence and says he's trying to fix the system.

>> was the 911 call system in dallas broken?

>> well, i'll tell you this, we have made a lot of changes since that case.

>> reporter: at the 911 center, they have hired more operators, ordered new headsets an created new codes that make all domestic violence calls a top priority meaning lights and sirens must be used.

>> we're here to say that you can call a guy that hits a woman a lot of things but you can't call him a man.

>> reporter: in the sea of people at that rally, one woman kept a low profile , tanita hopkins wanted to be there. not only to pay tribute to deanna cook but because of her own history.

>> i'm a survivor.

>> reporter: you are a survivor?

>> i'm a survivor. so i didn't take those type of calls lightly.

>> reporter: tanita says her childhood was spent watching her father beat her mother.

>> last thing i remember is watching him try to throw my mother from a two-story house and my brother and i were trying to hold her from keeping him from throwing her out the window.

>> reporter: the cook family started a foundation called deanna 's voice.

>> we want the system to be fixed. that's what we want out of. this we want this to never happen to anybody ever again.

>> reporter: they are planning their own rally in june.

>> gives me hope that something good will happen out of this. if the system is broken and i had to be the sacrificial lamb so to speak so they could correct it and no one else would lose their life, it's okay with me. because i would rather go through that than to hear about another woman losing her life.

>> a lot of people are now watching for changes. kate snow reporting for us tonight from dallas .