Students Suspect UVM Police Services Fabricated 911 Call

In the early morning hours on Feb. 15, the UVM police keyed into the dormitory room of freshmen Brian Ross and Kevin Stolp, claiming to be investigating a 911 hang-up, which both residents deny making. Ross and Stolp were given a breathalyzer test. Ross blew a .1 and Stolp a .08. The police then issued them citations for possessing and consuming alcohol as minors over the age of 16, and they now face fines of up to $300 if convicted. Both roommates claim that they answered a phone call from the police at about 1:20 a.m. UVM Police Services said a 911 hang up call had been made from their dorm and that they wanted to verify that there was no emergency. The phone conversation was short. Ross said that he told the police his name, that nobody except himself and his roommate were in the room, and that everything was ok–that there was no emergency. At that point, Ross said, the dispatch officer told him to open their door, explaining that the police were waiting outside. “As soon as we got the call they started banging on the door, you know, like real loud,” Stolp said, while pounding his desk to give an indication of the noise level. Ross hung up the phone, cutting off UVM dispatch. The two roommates waited silently in the room, expecting a noise violation notice to be slid under the door, something that has happened in the past, they said. The police continued knocking on the door, asking, “Brian, are you OK? Let us in.” Police officers outside began shining flashlights in through the window of the room, which is located on the ground floor. The officers warned the roommates that they would key into the room, but the two still didn’t want to open the door, since they had been drinking alcohol and had beer in their fridge. Ross and Stolp said they still expected that a noise violation would be slipped under the door, despite the commotion, the officers’ persistence and the fact that they said they weren’t being loud. After finding the RA, the police keyed into Chittenden, 115, where Ross and Stolp live. By then, about 10 minutes had passed since the police arrived at the scene and four officers were present. Ross and Stolp remain convinced that nobody had dialed 911 on their phone. Both residents also think that the police overstepped their boundaries when they keyed into their dorm. “The thing that I don’t understand [is that] they said it was a 911 call and it was an emergency,” said Stolp. “I think that they, like, set us up.” Stolp also recalls an officer saying, “It worked.” But Ross and Stolp admit that a third person may have called 911 from their room while they were absent, between 12:30 and 1 a.m. Stolp said, “It would have been a very slow response,” referring to the fact that he remembers the police calling around 1:20 a.m. Stolp suggested, at one point, that one of them could have dialed 911 by mistake, although they don’t remember making any long distance calls that evening, which would require dialing 9 and then 1 and the area code. Captain Lianne Toumey of UVM Police Services said that a 911 hang-up occurred at 1:20 a. m. which was traced to Chittenden, 115. Captain Toumey also said a return call was made to 115 Chittenden “instantaneously.” She said that the dispatcher’s computer places a return call to the source of a 911 hang-up automatically, and that there is no lag time between a 911 hang-up and the return call. “It would be simultaneous,” Captain Toumey said. Those records also indicate that nobody at 115 Chittenden answered the return call made by UVM dispatch at 1:20. Following a 911 hang-up call, police are required to make an immediate return call, according to Evalyn Bailey, who is the Executive Director of the Enhanced 911 Board of the State of Vermont. When there is no response to that return call, any police department in the state of Vermont would be required to send an officer to investigate, she said. The enhanced 911 Board is responsible for writing the state’s protocol for dealing with 911 calls. UVM Police Services said officers were dispatched and arrived at the scene at 1:21, one minute after they received the 911 hang-up. Toumey said that the officers began knocking on the door to Chittenden, 115. They could hear individuals inside the room talking and thought that they heard a noise like someone falling come from inside the room. After knocking for a few minutes without getting a response, and unable to verify that there was no emergency, officers at the scene requested dispatch to make a second call to the dorm room. Ross answered this second phone call, Captain Toumey said. Asked if police always send officers to investigate after reconnecting with the source of a hang up, Captain Toumey replied, “I don’t use superlatives. I don’t think you can say always.” Still, Toumey said, “It’s a public safety issue.” The person dialing 911 may not be able to report the incident over the phone if, for example, they are under immediate threat of harm by an attacker. “I believe our policy is that, if there’s any doubt in your mind, you should send someone.” Evalyn Bailey also said that dispatchers have “amazing” instincts at determining if there is an emergency or if an officer should be sent to the scene to investigate a 911 hang-up based on what dispatchers hear while making return calls. Captain Toumey explained that Police Services receives prank 911 calls fairly often. Students sometimes will dial 911 from phones in dormitory lounges and deliberately leave the phone off the hook. Each of those calls has to be investigated by sending an officer to the scene. “I can tell you what our protocols are, and I can tell you that we follow them.”