Newly released dispatch records show a nearly five-minute gap between the time Cheshire police received an initial 911 call last July about an "incident" at the home of Dr. William Petit and the time officers were dispatched to the scene.
It took seven minutes from the time of the 911 call for police to broadcast a detailed description, including a license plate, of a possible suspect's car that may have been driving in the area, records indicate.
A Cheshire officer was only a few blocks away on Higgins Road when the call to respond to the Petit home at 300 Sorghum Mill Drive went out. But the officer was ordered to stay back and not approach the house. Instead he parked out of view of the house and hid in some nearby woods watching the back of it.
That first officer was outside the Petit home for at least 26 minutes before the two men who allegedly murdered Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two teenage daughters were captured fleeing the horrific scene.
The heavily edited dispatch log and transcript of the police response was released to The Courant Monday as part of a freedom of information request.
The documents describe police officers setting up for a long hostage situation by attempting to establish a secure perimeter and waiting for SWAT team members and equipment to arrive rather than trying to contact the possible suspects or attempting to rescue family members trapped inside.
Investigators now know that Jennifer Petit, 48, and her two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, were alive while officers were outside the home and were killed in the final minutes of their seven-hour ordeal. The two suspects are accused of strangling the mother and leaving the girls to die, tied to their beds as the pair fled the flaming house.
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 27, and Steven Hayes, 44, were captured by Cheshire police at 9:58 a.m. when they used the Petits' SUV to ram through a roadblock only a block from the house. Both men face capital felony charges.
Dr. William Petit Jr. escaped, despite being bound and severely beaten. He hopped out the basement bulkhead to a neighbor's yard less than two minutes before the suspects were seen running from the home.
Cheshire police were close enough to the home to see Petit escaping, according to dispatch records.
"We got an 18 [Cheshire police code for a person] somewhere out ... it sounds like it's coming from your direction, so just be aware of it. Sounds like he's outside, somebody's outside anyhow," an officer said on the dispatch tape.
As one officer was yelling for a dispatcher to call an ambulance for Petit, others were alerting each other that the suspects were fleeing the house and still others were reporting the house was on fire. That chaotic, rapid-fire radio traffic occurred in a little over a minute while police were still trying to set up a nearby command post.
Cheshire police Monday declined to comment on their response to the triple killings, citing a gag order imposed by New Haven Superior Court Judge Richard Damiani on all parties involved in the case.
The department's response has been the focus of Internet chat groups and radio talk shows ever since the July 23 incident.
Cheshire Police Department spokesman Lt. Jay Markella has defended the officers' actions in interviews with The Courant. Sources have said that police were not sure about what was happening at the Petit home because the information they received in the initial 911 call was not clear.
"The Cheshire Police Department's officers acted properly and according to their training," Markella said in a recent phone interview. "Based on the information that was received, the officers followed procedure and protocol."
Police have declined to release the initial 911 call from the manager of a local Bank of America and also would not release the second 911 call made by a neighbor after Petit had hopped over to his yard screaming for help because they said the doctor himself can be heard on the tape. Damiani has also ruled that disclosing the 911 call from bank officials could be prejudicial to the defendants.
Police also have declined to turn over statements and reports of police officers that are part of a more than 300-page incident report, claiming the officers are potential witnesses at future trials.
Some other materials released Monday make veiled references to a half-dozen tips from confidential informants, the existence of letters written by one of the accused and a previously undisclosed injury to an unnamed officer. Police would not release supporting information about any of those issues.
The police became aware of the Petits' ordeal with the 911 call from the Bank of America manager at 9:21 a.m.
Police believe the two career criminals broke into the Petit home about 3 a.m. and took members of the family hostage. Shortly after 9 a.m., police believe, Jennifer Hawke-Petit went to the bank with Hayes to withdraw $15,000 from her account in a last-ditch effort to save her family. While she was in the bank, Petit somehow informed bank employees her family was being held hostage.
Records show that dispatchers several times put the bank manager on hold during the initial 3-minute 911 call. The bank manager was then told to call back police headquarters on another line to get a further description of what took place in the bank.
The back and forth phone calls took nearly five minutes. A radio dispatch of an "incident" at 300 Sorghum Mill Drive occurred at 9:26 a.m. and a description of the Petits' car used for the trip to the bank, including the license plate number, was broadcast to police at 9:28 a.m.
The bank, located in the Maplecroft Plaza, is between seven and 10 minutes from the Petit home. The first officer who responded to the radio dispatch call to head to Sorghum Mill Drive was on Higgins Road just past Oak Avenue, which is no more than a minute from the Petit home.
Law enforcement sources have said privately that they wonder how Hayes was able to beat the first officer back to the Petit home. Dispatch records show that police responded first to the Petit house, not the bank.
The officer who was on Higgins Road was the first to arrive within sight of the Petit house at 9:32 a.m., records show.
Within seconds of his arrival, a shift commander not identified in the police records warns officers not to approach the house. The shift commander orders cruisers to stay back and gets a detective in an unmarked car to drive by the Petit house to assess the scene.
The dispatch tape describes officers trying to determine if people were in the Petit house and if indeed the car had returned home from the bank. A decision was made quickly to call in the SWAT team, and some of the members were already at the scene. Some of the radio traffic is from the officer on Sorghum Mill Drive asking headquarters to bring rifles and bulletproof vests and helmets to the scene.
Police on the scene were given the phone numbers for the Petit home by 9:44 a.m., but sources familiar with the incident said no one from Cheshire police ever tried to call the house and make contact with Hayes or Komisarjevsky.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun