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Dispatcher Dawn brings us 3 memorable stories that stand out for her as a 9-1-1 operator with 25 years of experience on the job at her small town police agency.

Special Guest: Dispatcher Dawn

Dispatcher Dawn has worked in law enforcement communications for 25 yrs. She is a Field Training Officer for new dispatchers and also serves as a Crisis Negotiator for her department’s SWAT team.

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Paul: Hey, Small Town Fam, this is Paul Holes. Make sure you subscribe to The Briefing Room with Detectives Dan and Dave. Season 2 is out now. Subscribe now and thanks.


Yeardley: In Season 2, we did an episode called Lifeline where we sat down with dispatcher Kerry to hear about a day in the life of 911 operator in small town USA. It was so well received, we’ve decided to do it again, this time with dispatcher Dawn. Dawn is a 911 operator and a senior hostage negotiator and we asked her to tell us about three calls that are most memorable to her in her 25 years at her small-town police agency. Because we want to know if every time you answer the phone, it’s potentially life and death. What makes one call more memorable than another? Please note that all calls have been electronically manipulated to protect the identity of the caller. This is Lifeline II.

I’m Yeardley.

Zibby: I’m Zibby and we’re fascinated by true crime.

Yeardley: So we invited our friends, Detectives Dan and Dave.

Zibby: To sit down with us and share their most interesting cases.

Dan: I am Dan.

Dave: And I’m Dave. We’re identical twins and we’re detectives in small town USA.

Dan: Dave investigates sex crimes and child abuse.

Dave: Dan investigates violent crimes. And together we’ve worked on hundreds of cases including assaults, robberies, murders, burglaries, sex abuse, and child abuse.

Dan: Names, places, and certain details including relationships have been altered to protect the privacy of the victims and their families.

Dave: Though we realize that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we hope you’ll join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved out of respect for what they’ve been through. Thank you.

[Small Town Dicks theme]

Yeardley: Today, on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.

Dan: Good afternoon.

Yeardley: And Detective Dave.

Dave: Always great to be back again with you guys.

Yeardley: And we’re so pleased to have back with us one of our very early guests from Season 1, dispatcher Dawn.

Dawn: Thank you. I’m so glad you asked me back.

Yeardley: So, Dawn, we asked you to bring three calls today that were most memorable to you in your many years of being a dispatcher. And Dave, our favorite detective Dave has a significant role in the first one. Yes?

Dawn: Yes, he does.

Yeardley: So, why don’t you guys lead off and tell us how this all happened.

Dave: This occurred while I was still on the field training program.

Dawn: He was a newbie.

Dave: I was brand spanking new. We’ve talked about my second day in patrol, getting in the little wrestling match and getting injured.

Yeardley: Yes. Small Town Fam, if you have not heard the story of Dave’s first day on the job, we covered it in a minisode. We called Drinking from A Fire Hose. And you should definitely go back and listen to it because it’s short, it’s epic, and it’s tragically funny.

Dave: Yeah. And I was out for several months after a few surgeries and then when I came back, I resumed my field training program. So, this is a fall middle of the night call back in 2007. At this time, Dispatcher Dawn, she’s also one of our negotiators on our crisis and hostage negotiation teams. Detective Don was on that team as well. And then another Detective Jeff, who did sex crimes and child abuse investigations, he’s the one who trained me. He’s on the team as well as Dispatcher Kerry, who has been on our show. So, they’re really good at talking to people in pretty chaotic circumstances, but they get involved later on in this call. This is a call that came out to patrol.

A female had called in to 911 and said her ex-husband had showed up at her house. In the middle of the night, he was pretty amped up. He’s being fairly unreasonable and he had guns, and she’s got her two young children there. So at some point during that call, this female realized the person who always mediated that relationship was suspect John, it’s his mother. So, she summons the mother to the house to broker this deal where he’s going to calm down and let her and the kids go safely. The mother comes over, tries her best to deescalate this guy, and it’s just one of those situations where he was not going to be calmed down that night.

So, eventually we get a call to 911 from this woman who says, “My ex-husband is really amped up. He’s armed and he’s threatening us.” And that puts dispatcher Shannon on the phone with this guy John, who has taken the phone away from his wife. And John begins communicating with Shannon. While this is happening, we’re getting dispatched as patrol officers to go out to this residence. So, as I’m pulling up into the area with my field training officer, we’ve got other officers who are getting closer to the house. I was still in my car, but we’re just pulling up onto the block. I hear information aired over the radio, “Shots fired.”

And what had happened was John was aware that the police were coming. He’s on the phone with our dispatcher. And the front door of this residence, maybe from waist high all the way to the top of the door its glass, and it’s kind of that ornate glass, so you can’t see right in. You have these different angles so you don’t get a clear view into the house. But he perceives that police are walking up the walkway to the front door and he starts shooting rounds with his rifle out the window as officers are approaching. So that’s what we’re coming into. And certainly, when he makes that decision to shoot out the window, that changes our response as well. So, our dispatcher becomes the critical role and she’s trying to deescalate him while also making a deal with him. Let your ex-wife and her two children and your mother leave this residence? Dispatcher Shannon does a great job.

It takes a little bit, but we’re getting set up on the house. I remember the moment that we see the front door open, and we see this mother and her two little children running out to us and her ex-husband is behind them, armed, and they run out to us. We get out, break cover, grab them, and try to ferry them off to safety. And he slams the door behind him. And this begins this barricaded subject situation where it’s just him in the house. Now everybody else has left and he’s negotiating, so the decision is made. Let’s call in the SWAT team and let’s get our negotiators on scene.

Yeardley: So he also lets his own mother out of the house.

Dave: Turns out on that night, she was not helping the situation. She was just getting him more and more amped up.

Yeardley: Oh, dear.

Dave: Yeah. So, we just take up our spots. We try to surround the house as best as possible so he can’t squirt out the backyard and start hopping fences. We start positioning people everywhere. And now, in our small agency, every police officer that’s working at that time, I think we probably had six, we’re all on that call. Everything else in the city takes a second place to what’s going on here. We start trying to evacuate neighbors that are in sight lines of this guy if he shoots out the windows. And now looking at the house, he’s drawing all the blinds closed. And now we have no visibility into this house whatsoever. So, I remember feeling uneasy. I was positioned next to a big recycling container that you roll out to your curb and I was trying not to be too sucked in tight to it.

It’s not cover. It’s concealment. I’m trying to get the best line of sight I can at this front window. I remember the horizontal metal blinds that don’t let a whole lot of light in. I remember seeing this one blind in the corner, keep moving down and going back up and moving down and going back up. I’m like, “So, is that his finger or is that the barrel of this rifle?” That’s a really uneasy feeling. This guy is already demonstrated that he’s willing to shoot at the police. So, pretty heightened situation.

I remember being backlit by a porch light a couple of houses down, and I went to the homeowner, and I said, “Can I unscrew your porch light?” And the guy couldn’t understand why. I tried to explain the lighting situation. He’s like, “Don’t unscrew my porch light.” I unscrewed it anyway. He was pissed. He’s like, “Why does that cop want to take my porch light?”


Dave: So, I remember extinguishing that light, and now our negotiators are getting on scene, and it’s the hurry up and wait. And at some point, in that process, SWAT team members come in and take over our positions on the perimeter. I get pushed all the way to the outside, and I remember just running scene security probably two or three blocks away.

Zibby: So, meanwhile, what’s happening on your end, Dawn?

Dawn: I was working day watch that shift. So, the call came to me, I think at, like, 03:30 or so in the morning.

Yeardley: So, you were sound asleep.

Dawn: Yeah. And they said officers had been shot at. So, jumped in the car and got to dispatch, and they said, “Get in the car, we’re driving to the location.” So, we get out there and the van has already been set up, and Detective Jeff has been trying to talk to the suspect, but the guy doesn’t want to talk to a male at all. Jeff hands me the phone. “You, it’s all yours.” Okay.

So, I pick up the phone, and John is a whiny drunk manipulator who it’s all about him. It’s always going to be about him. We were on the phone for a very, very long time, and so it was constantly just going through his waves of his alcohol levels, I think diminishing over the hours. It took a long time for him to come into some ability to rationalize and make any kind of decisions. He kept going back to, “You guys made me release my family. That should be enough. You guys just need to go away. I can see that everybody is out there. I’m going to start shooting at them.” At one point, he looks out of a window and he says, “Yeah, I can see one of your guys in the backyard.”

And so, I tell Officer Jeff, and he puts it out on the radio, and the officer in the backyard is like, “Oh, really? What am I wearing?” [laughs]

Dan: Can he describe what I’m wearing? That’s been a long-standing joke at this department for many years with that officer.

Yeardley: Could he, in fact, describe what that officer was wearing?

Dave: Yeah, he’s like, he’s the guy in the camouflage behind that big pine tree in my backyard. And our officer is like, “Oh, yeah, I’m convinced he’s got me.”

Zibby: And then he backs out of that position.

Dawn: He did, yeah.

Zibby: Now, just going back to when you arrive on the scene and there’s the van, which I’m assuming is the communication van.

Dawn: It’s actually the catch all SWAT van because we’re a small agency. So, it’s a converted bread van with a fancy paint job and has some extra amenities. There’s a generator and there’re places for the heavy operators to put their weaponry. But negotiations is basically this little whiteboard, a little chair.

Dave: Yeah, we’re working on updating our–

Yeardley: Bread van.

Dave: Yes.

Dawn: Yeah.

Yeardley: That’s hilarious.

Dave: Was this one of those where he is on the phone, he gets fired up, he hangs up on you, call him back, he gets back on the phone.

Dawn: Yes.

Dave: I remember while I was out there that he would raise the automatic garage door. He would press the button, the door would come up a little bit and he’d fire rounds and then he’d hit it and it’d go back down and you’d just see his feet.

Dawn: Yeah, I started talking to him the last time he did that. So, he did it and we made a deal that he wasn’t going to do that anymore.

Yeardley: So, are you using the whiteboard in the van to communicate with your commander so that you don’t have to put the guy you’re on the telephone with on hold?

Dawn: Sometimes, but a lot of times we do the dispatch trick, which is you just repeat what the person’s saying, which is what they want to hear anyway, is themselves just repeating what they’re saying is clarifying that I understand what they’re saying and we can say it to the room.

Dave: It’s actually an odd dance. You’ve got the person who’s communicating with suspect on the phone, there’s somebody transcribing whatever they can gather about that conversation and they’re relaying that to somebody who’s the SWAT commander or communications person who’s going to air that information out to the people who are on the scene. So, it’s a coordinated dance.

Yeardley: Dawn this negotiation with John took several hours. What do you do if you have to go to the restroom?

Dawn: I talked to him. I said, “You know what, I think we need to take a break. Maybe you could get a glass of water. You’re doing great. You’ve really come long ways. We’ve made such progress. I really want to talk to you more, but I need to take a break and go to the bathroom.” And he seemed to understand that and was like, “Yeah, call me back.” And so, [laughs] I went to these very nice people’s house. I’m like, “Thank you,” and it’s like, “Oh, of course, come on in. [Yeardley laughs] Really appreciate you more than you can even know right now.”

Yeardley: So, you mentioned earlier that John, the ex-husband, eventually started to sober up. Did he become remorseful when he started to come too so to speak?

Dave: Yeah, he was stolen and he didn’t put up a fight. He did exactly what was told of him. He’s still the victim in that situation. Well, it was me, it wasn’t about all the chaos he created. And think about these two children with this person they look at as their father and he’s shooting off rounds while they’re inside a house and he’s got a gun trained on their mother. This was about him. So, he made his surrender about him.

Yeardley: And Dawn, this is a pretty extraordinary situation, but what’s memorable about this, because your day to day is pretty harrowing. You’re the first point of contact for most of these crimes. And so, what about this call stood out for you?

Dawn: I think the thing that stood out to me was how much risk all the officers were in and that it was my first really big negotiation. It’s probably one of the longest ones we’ve had at that point in quite a while.

Zibby: In that five-hour stretch, how much does self-doubt, if at all, come into play? And what do you do with it?

Dawn: Very much so. Like driving out to the location, I was doing the whole, “Oh dear, oh boy.” [laughs] This is the one. “Oh, boy, here we go.” But then once Officer Jeff hands me the phone and says, “All you,” there’s a moment of panic. There’s the handshaking thing, which I still get.

Dan: It’s an adrenaline dump.

Dawn: Yeah. And so, I call the number and there is a moment of doubt once I have him on the phone and then he hangs up. And that’s like, “Oh-oh just keep calling, just keep calling, just keep calling, you’ll find something, just keep calling.”

Dave: You’re like the psycho ex that just won’t stop.

Dawn: Exactly.


Dave: And that’s the frustrating part. We had a negotiation out probably within the last year. It’s an angry guy, similar situation. He’s fired up, pulled a gun on members of his family, and they got out. But now we have to deal with this criminal situation of him putting his family in danger. We talk for 30 seconds. He hangs up. You call him back. There’s no answer. You keep calling.

Finally, he answers and he insults you and screams at you and calls you motherfucker and questions your intelligence by saying, “Are you just stupid or are you going to keep calling me all night?” I try to use humor to diffuse those situations because I’m like, “Well, you must have spoken to my coworkers. Yes, I am a little bit stupid.”


Dave: And you just keep going back and forth, and every once in a while you get a chuckle from them and then they hang up. And the next time you talk to them, they’re in a completely different frame of mind, so you don’t know what kind of conversation you’re going to have. It could be different 35 seconds from the time you hung up that they’re going to be in different frame of mind.

Yeardley: That’s crazy. So, Dawn after something like this where the stakes are so incredibly high, you’ve been at it for three to five hours, you finally have a resolution, he’s in the custody. What do you do? How do you decompress from that?

Dawn: So, I had to go home and take a shower and go back to work and work day watch that day.

Yeardley: Oh my God.

Zibby: So, you don’t decompress from it?

Dawn: Not then. I think all of us have that ability to compartmentalize and then sometimes I’m surprised by when that happens, like, I won’t know why I’m suddenly feeling like, “Oh, I feel very emotional or very whatever it is.” And it’ll take me a minute to dig down and be like, “Oh, yes, that was stressful.” So, I’ve learned how to wait and put it aside for a while. In some cases, I can think of other cases where I’ve come back to work 7 hours after a pretty major incident. There was one where officers got shot at. So, I had to go back to work early that next day, and that officer didn’t get to have time off, and so he went out to a call where there was a guy that was armed, and I instantly broke into sweat, started shaking. I’m like, “Oh, I think I’m having a response because of what happened yesterday.”

Zibby: Right. So, on the occasion that you do have time to go, okay, let me deal with this thing that I feel is bubbling under the surface. How do you personally deal with it?

Dawn: Usually talking. It’s very helpful to talk to the officers that were on the scene of different incidences in dispatch. It’s great to have different perspectives. It’s like the dispatch center gets to be the place where we can decompress and sort all of it out over and over again. Because you’ll be like, “Oh, wait, you were a different place for that call. You were here. You saw this part.” So, I think one of the nicest things about being a small agency is that we can have that where the officer come in and be like, “Hey, can you tell me what happened at this part?” Get that picture filled in and then share maybe my part of whatever it was. I don’t necessarily share the emotional part, but sometimes it’s just clarifying what actually happened as opposed to what my mind thought happened.

Since we live in a very two-dimensional world and they’re out in the real world, it’s helpful to get all of the picture painted in when you can. And I do have a habit when we have really big calls where I can’t go home until I’ve seen everybody come in and check the chickens. That helps me somehow. It’s like, okay, the kids are all good. I can go home now.

Yeardley: Right.

Dawn: Hello.

Victim: Hi.

Dawn: Hi.

Victim: Someone’s trying to break into my house.

Dawn: Is it the front door or back door?

Victim: Ah.

Dawn: Is it the front door or the back door?

Victim: Someone’s trying to break down into my house– [crosstalk]

Dawn: Which door?

Victim: Downstairs. And I hear it on the window.

Dawn: Okay. Which window? If an officer drives up, which side should they look at?

Victim: I am nervous. I don’t even want to go down there. I don’t want to be downstairs.

Dawn: You can’t tell what’s front or back.

Victim: It’s the front of the apartment. [pounding noise] [unintelligible ] Oh, my God. [pounding noise] Oh, my God. Please. Can you hear that?

Dawn: I can. I’m trying to get officers.

Victim: He’s trying to [unintelligible my locked door. He looks like a bigger guy.

Dawn: Okay. And it’s the front of the house or the back?

Victim: The front. [unintelligible.

Dawn: They’re coming. Okay. Is there another room that you can get into and lock?

Victim: Not really.

Dawn: Is there a bathroom you can get into or–?

Victim: He could be anywhere. I don’t know. [pounding noise] Oh, my God. Can you guys hurry, please?

Dawn: Yes, we’re trying. Okay. I do have officers right near there. They’re going to come right to you. Okay. I’m just trying to figure out if there’s a safer place in your house you can get to.

Victim: I don’t know where it would be safe if he was downstairs and now he’s throwing stuff on the upstairs.

Dawn: He’s where?

Victim: He stopped at the sliding glass door?

Dawn: He is at the sliding glass door.

Victim: Yeah. Throwing stuff right now. [unintelligible

Dawn: Okay. They are coming. Okay. Just stay with me if you can.

Dawn: I think she’s home alone and I’m the only one working at that particular second because my coworker went to the bathroom. So, every time there’s a pause where she’s like, hurry. I’m talking on the radio saying, I can hear more pounding and trying to figure out which side of the apartment complex for them to come into. So, getting all the units to go and then as it progresses, I start getting really forceful. I’m telling her, “You need to get into a bathroom, lock the door.” And she’s clearly impaired of some kind.

Dawn: Do you have a bathroom you can go into?

Victim: Oh, my God.

Dawn: Ma’am? Ma’am, do you have a room you can go in? Ma’am? Hello?

Victim: Yeah.

Dawn: Can you go into a room?

Victim: Oh, my God.

Dawn: Focus on finding a–

Victim: [sobbing][background noise] Oh, my God, he’s coming, he is in the house, he’s in the house, he’s in the house. [background indistinct conversation] He is in there.

Dawn: Okay. Stay on the line with me, okay? Is there a safe place you can go?

Yeardley: Oh, my God. Shit went sideways so fast in that call.

Dawn: Yeah. So as my coworker comes out of the bathroom, she’s like, Put her on hold. So, I put her on hold, and while she’s on hold, there’s a shot fired, and you can hear a guy say, “I got the motherfucker.” So, the officers get there and there’s a guy laying on the sidewalk bleeding from a chest wound. The sergeant was the first one that got there and he said, “There’s a guy with a gunshot wound out here.” And weren’t sure if the officers had shot the guy or what had happened, because we hadn’t even thought that she would have shot anybody because she never said anything about a gun. Then we realized, “Oh, wait, the officers didn’t shoot this guy, somebody in the apartment did.”

So, then my coworker gets on the phone with her and starts asking her, “So did you guys shoot this guy? [laughs] What happened? And it finally comes out that there’s a guy there. The guy had shot him as he’d come in through the window and then they tried to hide the gun. So, she’s like, “Listen, we just need you to put the gun away. Put it, like, in a dresser, tell us where it’s at, and we need you guys to come outside calmly.” And she’s really slow to respond. Same weird dynamic of not tracking. So, finally they come out, they take him into custody, and they find out what happened was this guy followed them home from the bar and he tried to break in.

He does actually start to enter through a window that sounds like it’s next to the sliding glass door on the stairway. And the person that was there that she didn’t mention shoots him. And so, he falls back out of the window just as the sergeant gets there, and he’s like, “Oh, gunshot wound.” So, one of the officers attends to the guy that has a chest wound, puts a special patch that he carries because he’d spent some time over in Iraq. So, he carries this special patch and he takes care of him. And he actually ended up getting an award for life saving.

Yeardley: So, was the other person in the house with the caller her boyfriend?

Dawn: Yeah, I think it was her boyfriend.

Zibby: And why do you think she didn’t mention him?

Dawn: I didn’t think to ask it because usually when somebody’s having somebody try to break into their house, they’re usually very on top of it, the adrenaline kicks in. “It’s my house, somebody’s trying to break in.” They tell you all the information you need. So, when they don’t provide the information, at first, I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah” but then you hear the pound, the brick getting thrown against the window. “Okay, that’s real.” Which is when you don’t hear me for a little bit because I’m sending additional units because I’m sure it’s real. And then she keeps kind of not answering questions and I’m trying to get her to think, and she cannot think.

Yeardley: Because she’s so drunk.

Dawn: I think, or high, I really don’t know.

Dave: And a combination of overwhelmed too.

Yeardley: She sounded actually almost calm.

Dawn: Yeah. When she didn’t have any interest in self-preservation. I think of it now as a clue to say, “Is there somebody else there?” Because it didn’t even come to mind that somebody else was running interference for her. And what’s unfortunate about the way our 911 system here is set up is it goes to one call center. They get the address, some initial information, they send it over. I’m scanning through, they may have talked to her for two minutes.

Zibby: I’m also just so is Yeardley struck by her lack of urgency? And it makes me think in those potential two minutes where the first call is taking place, they’re probably having a similar response as you were initially, which is, “Oh, this doesn’t feel so urgent. There’s an apathy to her tone, so maybe this isn’t real,” which probably didn’t set her up so well.

Dawn: Yeah, to the right question, I’m trying to go to what does he look like? Because I’m thinking he’s already going to have left or we’re going to get there, they’re going to look for a person. It doesn’t even occur to me to think of, is there somebody else there, usually people tell you like, “Oh, my kids are here.” So that’s actually one of the questions I go to now quite often is who else is in the house?

Dave: I’ve been on calls like this with Dawn and as I’m responding she’s talking to the 911 caller, and then every now and then she’s taking a break from that or the other dispatcher is relaying us what is going on in the 911 call. And quite frequently what we hear from our dispatchers is callers not answering all the questions, which puts me in a situation where I’m obviously not getting the whole story here and I have no idea what I’m about to roll up on. And when people aren’t answering pretty basic questions and everything, it’s raising some real big red flags for them, the dispatchers, and for us too. You just never know what you’re going to roll up on. It’s dangerous for us.

Yeardley: Did you ever find out the guy who followed them home from the bar, was he drunk also?

Dawn: Yeah, he was drunk and high, I believe. And I think he was also on heroin. He had a combination of things going on. He didn’t even live in the area.

Yeardley: Were charges ever brought against the guy who shot the intruder?

Dawn: No. Although the guy that was shot got charged with burglary for breaking into the house.

Yeardley: Oh.

Dave: I know it seems like a contradiction that the guy who got shot is the one who gets charged with a crime. But in our state, we have a castle doctrine, and it basically says that any reasonable person, if somebody is entering your home with some malice, you can fear for your life and you can defend yourself with deadly force.

Yeardley: I see. Dawn, when everything in your line of work is a priority, how do you decide what to prioritize? Because you have the person, you have the caller, but then you also have the information that you’re relaying to your responding officers. So, how do you toggle back and forth between those things?

Dawn: More important thing is to get the officers there, make sure they have the information. So, at that point, I want to make sure the guys know what’s going on, where we’re going. And later on in the call, I was trying to get her attention. I ramp up the urgency of finding a safe place to be and getting pretty mom like, like, snap out of it. “You don’t have a bathroom that locks?” I mean, I think I say something rather sarcastic.

Yeardley: It’s interesting that you say it didn’t occur to you that somebody else would be in the house. As I’m listening to the tape, it also doesn’t occur to me at all that somebody else might be in the house.

Dawn: Yeah, and it’s one of those lessons in people to think, “Oh, wait, maybe it’s something I hadn’t even thought of. Like a guy that’s harmed with a gun.” [Laughs] 

Zibby: Yeah.

Yeardley: Right. You would think that would be a mentionable though.

Dawn: Right. And it’s amazing how often it isn’t and how often I end up going like, “Oh, come on, let’s go through the checklist.” What do they look like? Weapons, drugs? It seems crazy, but it is basic. [laughs]

Zibby: So, would you agree that you’ve developed an ear for the psychology of the individual because you’re reading the person and you’re limited to just the voice? Do you feel like that’s like a superpower you now have, after so many years of doing this?

Dawn: I don’t know about superpower, but it is developed to listen for the tone of voice, what they’re actually saying, what they answer, what they won’t answer, the pauses and then the background noises. Same thing with the radio. When the officers are on the radio, there are certain tones of their voice or what’s going on in the background on their call. And it does get finely tuned because we can have other channels for other agencies going, and something will catch our attention. “Oh, what’s that?” That’s a different sound of voice. That’s a different call. So, in her case, definitely the disassociated not connecting, not with it. If it’s her own safety that’s at risk, it doesn’t show. In her word, it does. And when he throws the brick, it does, but then it diminishes again.

Dave: So on the patrol side of this, there’re two dispatchers in the room. And as you’re responding in your car, I can hear one dispatcher talking to me, and the other dispatcher is talking to the 911 caller. And I can hear the other dispatcher yelling at the 911 caller, “Get a hold of yourself.” And I can tell that the situation is escalating. So, your response is mirrored by that. You either speed up or you’re asking clarifying questions of your dispatchers. What’s going on right now? Because I can hear the other person in the background yelling at the caller.

Zibby: When you hear a new voice, anytime you take the call, does your mind form an image of that person?

Dawn: Sometimes. But more often than not, it’s more the information. What I actually formulate pictures of is their address, their location. What does it look like? Where is the officer driving? Where are my units coming from? So, I actually more formulate where they’re going. So, addresses are our entire world, which I don’t think a lot of people understand. If you give me an address in or town, I generally can picture it. If I can’t picture exactly where it is, I can picture the street.

Yeardley: That’s interesting. It makes complete sense. And so, going back to our original question, when we asked you to be on the show, what made you choose this call?

Dawn: I think the combination of the caller not really representing what was happening, which surprised me at the time, the officer saving the guy’s life who broke into the house, which was unusual, because if it had been any other officer besides the one that was dispatched, that guy would have died.

Yeardley: Because he wouldn’t have had the patch.

Dawn: Right. They wouldn’t have had the materials. The fire department can’t go in until the scene is secure. There’s a delay in getting the people out of the house, making sure we know where the gun is, the likelihood that something really bad could happen to that guy was really high if it wasn’t for that officer’s response.

Yeardley: Wow.

Dawn: So, this one was an interesting case of a domestic violence situation where the friend called on behalf of the victim.


Victim’s Friend: Hi

Dawn: Hi.

Victim’s Friend: I need advice on a situation that has happened with my friend. Her husband has beat her face up and she’s laying in here. Doesn’t want the police. Don’t want to call anybody, but I need to know how to help her.

Dawn: Okay and is the husband there now?

Victim’s Friend: I don’t know. Where is your dad? Nobody knows where he’s at right now.

Dawn: Okay. And is it at their house? Is that where you’re at?

Victim’s Friend: Yes.

Dawn: Okay, well, we would want to come out and talk to her.

Victim: I don’t want to do this right now.

Victim’s Friend: She doesn’t want to do this right now. It’s making it worse because she’s in a lot of pain.

Dawn: Does she need an ambulance?

Victim’s Friend: Do you need an ambulance, honey?

Victim: No.

Victim’s Friend: Her face is so swollen. I think she has something broken.

Dawn: Okay that…

Victim’s Friend: I want help from my friend and I’m going to put my friendship on the line, and I hope you are still my friend.

Victim: I can’t do this. You can’t.

Victim’s Friend: Why? I’m doing this for your girls, and I’m doing this for you, and I hope you know that. I’m mean, but well, for you. Okay. Do you understand? I’m going to get you the help. This is enough. No more.

Dawn: Okay.

Victim’s Friend: Okay.I would like to get the help that she needs. Maybe if an ambulance can come and check her.

Victim: No. I’m going to the doctor.

Victim’s Friend: We’re not going to the doctors.

Victim: Yeah.

Victim’s Friend: If you don’t need to go to the hospital.

Victim: I will go to the hospital by myself.

Victim’s Friend: No. We will go, I’ll take you in, if they see us.

Victim: I don’t won’t the ambulance here.

Victim’s Friend: You don’t want them to look and make sure.

Victim: No.

Victim’s Friend: No. Okay. No ambulance.

Victim: I do not won’t any police here.

Victim’s Friend: And no police. I’m going to take her in myself. Okay.

Dawn: Okay. So, can I tell you something that you can just keep to yourself and work through this as you get to the hospital?

Victim’s Friend: Yes.

Dawn: So, the thing to do is, when you get to the hospital, take one of the nurses aside and tell them that its domestic violence, and they need to call the police, and they need to call us with the address where it happens.

Victim’s Friend: Okay.

Dawn: Okay. Because it’s a mandatory report, and we want to help her too and we don’t want her kids to see this anymore. We don’t want anybody to be hurt anymore. Okay. That’s really the plan. So, when you get there, just don’t do it in front of her, okay?

Victim’s Friend: Okay. Whoever it is, aside and just tell them, “Hey, she’s really resistive. I tried calling the police. The police asked me to tell you about this and to call us back.” Okay.

Victim’s Friend: Okay.

Dawn: So we’ll expect, are you guys going to [beep]

Victim’s Friend: Yes.

Dawn: Okay. All right. If I don’t hear from you, can we call you back [beep]?

Victim’s Friend: Yes, ma’am.

Dawn: What’s your name.

Victim’s Friend: I am [beep]

Dawn: Okay. And if you have any problems, call us back. Okay?

Victim’s Friend: Absolutely.

Dawn: Okay.

Victim’s Friend: Okay, bye.

Dawn: Again, I was training, so I stopped my trainee and I take over because she was really new, and I knew this was going to be more complex because it was going to be one of those delicate ones to get to the victim. There was just something about the way the friend talked. She’s like, “We need to take her to the hospital. She can barely talk. Her children are with us also.” So, I tell the friend, “Please call us when you get to the hospital. We’ll have officers come over there and talk to you.”

Yeardley: That’s so tricky.

Dawn: Yeah. She started out by saying that it had happened at a local business that’s near their home instead of at their home. So, there was some confusion on my part about where it had happened, and there was an urgency with the friend saying, “I need to take her to the hospital. I need to take her to the hospital.” Okay, well, we’ll let you go ahead and go to the hospital. Can I ask right away, “Where’s the suspect? Is he there?” And she said, “No, he’s not here.” So, they go ahead and go to the hospital. Well, I don’t hear back from her for an hour, so I end up calling the friend, and I get her on the line, and she’s really cagey.

Victim’s Friend: Hello?

Dawn: Hi.

Victim’s Friend: Who is this?

Dawn: This is Dawn [beep] police. Is everything okay?

Victim’s Friend: Yes.

Dawn: Are you going to the hospital?

Victim’s Friend: She’s there now? Yeah.

Dawn: Okay. Did you go with her?

Victim’s Friend: Yes.

Dawn: So you guys are at [beep] right now?

Victim’s Friend: Yes.

Dawn: Okay and are you right next to her?

Victim’s Friend: I’m outside the room.

Dawn: Okay. Can you tell me what address it happened at?

Victim’s Friend: It was out in a public place.

Dawn: Where?

Victim’s Friend: In a public place.

Dawn: Okay. Where was this public place?

Victim’s Friend: I believe the [beep] shopping area.

Dawn: Okay. And what’s your friend’s name?

Victim’s Friend: [beep]

Dawn: Okay. And who assaulted her?

Victim’s Friend: She said that it was a woman that had been with her husband.

Dawn: A woman? It wasn’t her husband that hit her?

Victim’s Friend: No.

Dawn: Okay.

Victim’s Friend: It was a woman that she had approached, and they were already arguing, and she came out of nowhere and had like a metal stick.

Dawn: Okay. So, does she want to press charges against the woman?

Victim’s Friend: Can you give me one second?

Dawn: Yeah, no problem.

Victim’s Friend: Ma’am.

Dawn: Yeah.

Victim’s Friend: She said she’s okay.

Dawn: Okay, so this didn’t happen in front of her kids?

Victim’s Friend: No.

Dawn: Okay.

Victim’s Friend: Her kids are with me.

Dawn: Okay. But when the assault happened, were her kids there?

Victim’s Friend: No, they were actually staying there at my house.

Dawn: Okay. All right. Let you go. Okay.

Victim’s Friend: Thank you so much.

Dawn: You bet. Bye, bye.

Yeardley: It’s interesting that when you’re first questioning her and she’s saying yes, it sounds like she’s in trouble now, like something has changed and somebody’s threatening her, and all she can give you is yes. But it’s not a convincing yes. It’s a conflicted yes. It hurts my heart to hear it.

Dawn: Yeah. So that friend, her demeanor is totally different when they’re at the hospital. So, I basically keep talking to the friend and finally say, “Well, let’s just go ahead and have an officer come talk to you guys. We’d need to figure out who this person is that assaulted her.” So, we sent an officer, he gets there, and he ends up taking over an hour just trying to get through to the victim to get her to talk to him, to tell him what actually happened and he kept having to go back to, “That story doesn’t make sense.” So, he’d have to pull one of the kids out who’s eight, and they finally comes out that yeah not only did dad pummel her, but he’s been pummeling her pretty consistently throughout the relationship.

What was unusual about this call is it wasn’t just straightforward, go arrest the guy. The house is owned by the victim’s dad, so the dad’s going to go there with the officer and the key, and he’s mad as hell that his daughter is beat up, can’t talk, her jaws wired shut. So, he gets there before the officers do, and he confronts the suspect, who then comes at him out of the garage with some weapon, a knife.

Yeardley: Oh, jeez.

Dawn: So, a fight’s going on as the officers arrive on scene, and they take the guy into custody, and he ends up going to jail. But the weird part about this whole thing is, if the friend hadn’t called us, if we hadn’t gotten that first call, that lady would probably still have been in this relationship with this guy who broke her jaw and has beat her over the last, sounds like ten years.

Yeardley: It’s such a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

Dawn: Yeah.

Dave: What these victims have to deal with too is a lot of times they don’t work. They’ve been isolated financially and from their family and friends. And she’s probably thinking, I’m in such a desperate spot right now that my husband’s all I have. These abusers manipulate you with custody of your children, I’m going to attack you in court, and I’m going to say you’re an unfit mother, and things like this. So, these victims, they’re so manipulated to a point where they think the only person, they can possibly be with is their abuser. I’m sure that’s what she was trying to convey to her friend who had contacted the police was, you’re going to ruin my life if the police get involved.

Dan: And going back to the friend, changing her story so much, that’s a huge red flag for law enforcement.

Yeardley: Right. And now it’s a woman who was sleeping with her husband who assaulted the victim. So, Dawn, of course, say, “Oh, you want to press charges?”

Dave: And you’re asking that question because you know she’s lying.

Dawn: I know she’s lying. I do that a lot. Well, I’ll know the answer already, and that’s not really the point. It’s just to get them locked in on what the claim is now. Even though the earlier story was he broke her jaw.

Yeardley: How come.

Dawn: It helps the officers? Like, this is the story we have on tape. This is what has been said to 911. This is admissible in court with assault charges. There are different laws about what can come in and what can’t in taped calls. So, you can have this is the first story and this is the second story. And a lot of times assault victims don’t want to press charges against their suspect, and the state doesn’t give them the option. The state will go forward even if the victim doesn’t want to press charges.

Yeardley: Oh, interesting.

Dave: That’s a great law that we have here.

Yeardley: Yeah.

Dawn: Yes, Assault Prevention Act, which makes it so that I have to send an officer to her because there is a suspicion that it is her husband that she lives with that beat her up. I can’t just let that go. By law, I have to have an officer go, and then an officer has to investigate. And if the officer determines that is what happens, he has to arrest the suspect. All the rules are very clear when it comes to assault prevention because they understand the cycle of abuse. They understand that the victim is like, but my whole world is this person. My whole world’s changing because you’re taking this person away. It may be an awful world, it may be a broken jaw world, but that’s my world.

Dave: Who told the policethat the victim was being abused.

Dawn: The older child, the 10-year-old was able to say, “This isn’t the first time.” The text messages that the victim had sent to her friend, the officer was able to look through her text messages and is like, “Why did you say this? Why did you say he broke my jaw? Why did you say it was your husband here? And now you’re saying this.” And that’s when she finally broke and said what actually happened.

Yeardley: So, the victim who gets beat up, did she go to her friend’s house with her kids in tow and say, “I need your help.” How did the friend find her beat-up friend?

Dawn: So, the caller had the kids, her kids and the victim’s kids are friends. So, she gets a text message from the victim saying, “I’ve been beat up. I think my jaw is broken.” And so, the friend is like, “Okay.” So, she drives over there and she calls out of the urgency of, “Oh, my gosh.” And she didn’t call 911. She called a regular business line.

Yeardley: She called the non-emergency line.

Dawn: She called the non-emergency line. So, she’s trying to downplay it. She’s trying to just be like, “So, yeah, this is going on.” [laughs]

Zibby: Do you think she was doing that to protect her friend’s desire not to out her husband?

Dawn: I think so. She knew it was wrong. She knew this person needed help. I mean, I’m sure every ounce of her was like, “This has got to stop,” and probably didn’t know what else to do other than to just reach out. And then she probably had some remorse, because when I called her back, she sounded like, “Why are you calling me back?”

Yeardley: Right.

Zibby: Of the calls that you get, is there one nature of a call that you seem to get the most frequently?

Dawn: Disputes, domestic and any living situation. It can be the roommates’ disputes. People who live together conflict, and it’s usually over stuff, they’ll try to claim it isn’t. But people argue over amazing amounts of things, property. If you’re really, truly scared for your life, you leave. You don’t care about your TV, you don’t care about your car, you don’t care about anything. Maybe your cat and your dog and your kids, but I put kids last. Oops.


Yeardley: Your cat and your dog.

Dave: That was actually an alphabetical order cat, dog, kids.

Dawn: Kids, thank you.

Dave: That’s how I’m justifying.

Dawn: Okay, there we go. I suddenly checked. I’m like, wait a minute. Yes. That’s one of the things that to sort of do a litmus test for a person who’s calling on a dispute. One of the things I will say is, “They’re breaking my stuff.” Okay, your stuff’s not important. What’s important here is your safety. We need you to go ahead and leave. And if they’re like, “No, my stuff’s more important.” You’re not scared for your life. If you’re scared for your life, you don’t care, you go. And I’ve had that exact conversation with multiple people. If you’re truly scared for your life right now, you need to leave. That is the safest thing for you to do. And if you can’t do that, I will help you get there, but you have got to leave however it takes, we can get you out, but you’ve got to leave.

And sometimes, we’ve had that where there’re so many calls going on, we don’t have officers available. So, I’m trying to get people separated until we can get officers out there. So that’s another technique of trying to figure out how important this call is. And if the person is not willing to leave because of their stuff, it drops into priority for me, because you’re not really scared for your life. People who are scared for their life don’t wear shoes. They grab their keys, and they go. They forget their keys. They run to the grocery store. People who are really scared for their lives, don’t care about property.

Dave: Also, a lot of times, people who are in disputes, they provoke each other. And that’s just the nature of a dispute.

Dawn: Yeah. Both men and women do it to each other where they’ll amp the other one up so that the other one is the hysterical one on the phone. So, you have the hysterical woman who’s like, “Oh, my God, he’s doing this, he’s doing that,” he’s whatever. And they’ll talk to that person instead of talking to me. So, I have a little speech thing I give where it’s, “Hey, the calmer you are, the better off you are. You need to ignore whatever that person is saying because he’s trying to amp you up. He’s trying to make you hysterical. He’s trying to make it so when the officers get there, you sound like the crazy one. Deep breathe, ignore him. Walk into a different room, go somewhere else.”

Dave: Common tactic with abusers. I have arrested females for abusing their husbands, but most of the time it’s a male abusing the female. And quite a bit of the time, the female is hysterical because he’s fuzzed her up before the police get there. And maybe sometimes it’s even she’s finally gotten to the point where she had the courage to call the police. And this guy’s cool as a cucumber. When the police arrive. He’s articulate, he’s calm, he’s able to explain his version of the events. And if you’re not versed in how this dynamic works and that you don’t recognize that this is a part of what abusers do, sometimes you can overlook that. And that woman, when you walk away and nothing has happened, she feels helpless.

So, if there’s one thing that I can try to convey to any listener who’s in a domestic relationship, please study and learn and be familiar with the cycle of abuse, please do. Because if you’re in that situation, you’re probably going to recognize some characteristics of that relationship that are going to fit into that pattern and get the hell out. Because it doesn’t get better, it only gets worse.

Yeardley: Yes. And we actually have quite a few links to national helplines on our resources and Information page on our website at including resources for victims of domestic abuse, so–

Dave: Yeah. Just in this podcast, how many domestic murders have occurred that we’ve covered? Our first episode was about this and leaving is the hardest part. And there are resources out there that can help you get your friends involved, “please get out.”

Dawn: Yeah.

Yeardley: Have you ever been genuinely scared while you were on the phone trying to instruct someone to safety?

Dawn: Oh, yeah, definitely. [laughs] There’re two that I can think of. One, the woman knew who the guy was because she was being stalked and she was sure it was going to be this person. She was right. It was. And she was legitimately scared. She was hiding under the bed like anything possible. She’s like, “I can’t talk because I think he’s breaking in now.” And that’s when I was genuinely scared. I’m like, “Just leave the phone. Just leave the phone.” She’s like, “Stop talking.” [laughs] I’m covering my mic because my radio is going, but I want to be able to hear what’s going on, but I don’t want it to give away her position where she’s in the house. I don’t want her to hang up because of the way the whole thing unfolded. So, I was scared for her. And they were able to get him, they got him in custody, and it took a while to get her convinced to come out because she was genuinely terrified.

Zibby: That’s the biggest fear, the stranger. And that’s the nightmare that we, I think, especially as women have as being alone in our home, there’s an intruder and we’re in a hiding place hoping not to be discovered, and we’re just cornered and praying that help comes.

Dawn: I think as a result of that, I have a whole different tack on how I would deal with it. My own personal belief is I have a shotgun, and if you even try my door, I’ll blow you away through the door. I will handle my situation and you guys can come clean it up. That’s changed. I didn’t used to be that way. When I was younger and not many years into it, there was no way I would have said that and be like my husband needs to come take care of this, this is bad. [Laughter] But I now feel like it’s my responsibility to keep myself safe. It’s my house. You don’t come in my house. Everything about my house is mine. If you try to even break down the door, I won’t open it. I’ll just blow you away. So, I’ve actually coached a couple of women. You don’t have to have a gun. Just tell them you do. Don’t hide. Tell them “I’m going to shoot you if you don’t get away from my door.”

Zibby: And in a burglary situation, every time I watch one of those movies where there’s an intruder, I’m like, “Don’t go up the stairs, because you can’t go anywhere from there.” Do you feel the same way? Or in one of your stories, you said, is there a bathroom you can go into and lock yourself in? And I’m thinking, “Oh God.” But then when they bang the door down, you’re in this really tiny space, and there’s really nowhere to go. I mean, is there a standard place that we just don’t realize, or–

Dawn: Most of what it is about is trying to get somebody to think for themselves, because you will know your house better than anybody else. You’ll know the best hiding places or at least the one you think you would. You know your house, you know your circumstances, you know where you fit, where you don’t fit. What is a secret door? What isn’t? What are the best exits? Do you have to go down the stairs, past the door where the person is, or if you’re stuck upstairs is the safest place under the bed? Or is it better to have another barricade, like a locked door so that you have that extra time that it takes for them to get through the door? It is usually my thought. Hopefully, we have some biological wiring that kicks in and says, “I have an idea.” So, my idea is to try to help stimulate that process. You have good instincts. It’s your house. Where should you go?

Dave: Put as many obstacles between you and danger as possible.

Dawn: Yeah.

Dave: The thing about these calls that we’re talking about right now is you don’t hear Dawn talking about, “Hey, the police are coming.” She’s talking to the police. You just can’t hear her talking to the police, the officers who are responding. So, when she’s saying, “Go find a hiding place,” she’s buying that person time because we are closing distance on that address and we are going to get there and we are going to take care of the problem. So, buy yourself some time and don’t be sitting on the living room couch when bad guy comes in. Make it hard for him to find you.

Dawn: Yeah.

Yeardley: Yeah, right. Still, it blows my mind what you encounter day to day, because Dan and Dave and all of the wonderful detectives we interview, usually they have, even in a small town, a specific area of interest that they more or less paddle around in, right? Violent crimes, sex abuse. But you being first point of contact, you get it all.

Dawn: Yeah. And it’s sometimes hard to go from that burglary, that hot call to the next call of the neighbor’s dogs barking. That’s usually the moment of like, whoa, is this a weird slowdown, like, “Okay, I’m going to take a breath here.” I might even put the person on hold for a second just because it’s such a different frame of mind.

Yeardley: Sure. You just need a minute?

Dawn: Yeah.

Yeardley: Dawn, thank you so much for sitting down with us. This has been so fascinating. And thank you for all you do to keep your town and your officers safe.

Dawn: Thank you.


Yeardley: Small Town Dicks is produced by Zibby Allen and Yeardley Smith and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave.

Zibby: This episode was edited by Soren Begin, Yeardley Smith, and Zibby Allen.

Yeardley: Music for the show was composed by John Forest. Our associate producer is Erin Gaynor and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.

Zibby: If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, head on over to and become our pal on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @smalltowndicks. We love hearing from our Small Town Fam, so hit us up.

Yeardley: Yeah. And also, we have a YouTube channel where you can see trailers for past and forthcoming episodes.

Zibby: That’s right. If you choose to subscribe, you’ll be supporting our podcast. That way we can keep going to small towns across the country and bringing you the finest in rare true crime cases, told, as always, by the detectives who investigated them. Thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.

Yeardley: Nobody’s better than you.

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