Jamie Taylor/River News
Members of the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department Special Response Team cling to the outside of their armored BearCat as they approach 10 Sanns Street in Rhinelander just before 10 p.m Friday. Police were able to determine that there were no explosives in the residence and no one had been shot.
Jamie Taylor/River News
The scene at 110 Sanns Street in Rhinelander a day after an emergency call prompted a number of special response teams, and a bomb squad, to respond to the home.
4/11/2017 7:28:00 AM Interim chief defends response to Sanns Street incident Law enforcement response included SRTs, bomb squad
An ill man's inability to communicate with dispatchers resulted in a large-scale police response on the city's west side Friday, but interim police chief Ron Lueneburg said local law enforcement's reaction to the emergency call was appropriate.
Inaccurate information led police to believe they were dealing with a possible hostage situation and that explosives might also be involved, Lueneburg told the media after the "all clear" was given just before 10 p.m.
Special response teams from the Oneida County Sheriff's Department and surrounding counties, along with the Marathon-Oneida County bomb squad, staged at the intersection of Davenport and Maple streets. In addition to armored vehicles, a bomb robot and at least one drone were prepared for use.
"Oneida County dispatch received a call at about 6:39 p.m. tonight indicating a person was shot," Lueneburg said in a press briefing at approximately 9 p.m. Friday. "The call came in on a hard line from 10 Sanns Street here in the city of Rhinelander. The caller seemed to be having some communications problems, like they were in distress, so it was difficult for dispatch to have a pretty clear line of communication with them."
Lueneburg explained that the dispatcher had the alleged victim use buttons on the phone to answer "yes" or "no" to questions.
"Throughout the communications, we understood that a person possibly had a gunshot wound to the shoulder, and that there may be explosives in the house," he said, adding that the bomb squad's robot was used to check the house.
One of the residents of the house "may have some ongoing health issues and we're not sure of the accuracy of the information we are getting from them," he added.
He also confirmed that shortly before he spoke to reporters a man was taken by ambulance to Ministry St. Mary's Hospital, but he did not have any information about that person's condition. Lueneburg said paramedics approached the residence, got the man into the ambulance and retreated to the staging area as law enforcement was gathering.
A short time later, the SRT's armored BearCat could be seen approaching the house from the staging area, with some members hanging on the outside of the vehicle on the side away from the residence.
Just after 10 p.m., Lueneburg addressed the media for a second time.
"The house has been checked by the SRT teams and we found the house to be safe and secure from what officers could determine," he said. "As you can see, there was a large response from law enforcement, firefighters, EMS. Based on the information that had been provided by the caller to the dispatch center, we believe our response was appropriate. We are finding out now that the person taken away in the ambulance was an apparent resident at this location and in his mid-60s and appears to have experienced some health problems which may have affected his ability to communicate effectively and accurately. But we gave a response based on the information we had received."
He stressed that law enforcement had been able to definitely determine that there was no threat, no one was injured and there were no explosives in the house.
"This turns out, from what we can determine, to be a medical situation," Lueneburg said, adding that it was that man who had called 9-1-1.
Lueneburg was quick to defend the intense police response.
"In emergency services, that's what we do, based on the information that comes in to the dispatch center. We, in law enforcement, would rather err on the side of caution when we are getting reports of people being injured by gunshots and so forth. In the world we live in today, we have to use caution in how we are approaching these situations," Lueneburg said. "Some people might call it an overreaction, but we consider it an appropriate response. We would rather err on the side of caution for community safety then not respond appropriately."
In a matter of 10 minutes, the gathered emergency personnel packed up and left the scene.
Although Oneida County Sheriff Grady Hartman, sheriff's captain Terri Hook and the department's emergency response command van were on scene, Hook said Lueneburg was the lead officer in charge throughout the situation.
"This is the city of Rhinelander, and it is their jurisdiction," Hook said as she was preparing to leave the scene. "We were just here to assist them in resolving the situation."
In response to questions from the community, Hook released a detailed statement Sunday evening explaining the sheriff's department's actions.
"In an effort to assist the community in understanding our actions, we would like to provide a detailed description of what occurred," she wrote. "At approximately 6:37 p.m., the Oneida County Sheriff's Office Dispatch received a 911 call from a land line registered to 10 Sanns Street in the City of Rhinelander. The caller did not speak to the telecommunicator but the telecommunicator could hear there was someone on the line. The telecommunicator employed a technique used to assist victims who are not able to speak either due to injury or an emergency situation. The telecommunicator asked the caller to press buttons on the telephone in response to questions. The telecommunicator varied the amount of button presses used for each answer and attempted to verify information by repeating questions and asking the caller to verify the information using a different number of button pushes. The telecommunicator began using this technique by asking the caller to press a button to indicate the caller was still on the phone. Once the caller verified they were still on the phone, the telecommunicator asked if the caller need an ambulance or police. The caller indicated they needed both. The telecommunicator asked a variety of questions to attempt to determine what the emergency was at the home. Continuing the use of this technique, the caller indicated that they had been shot and the shooter was still at the residence. The caller indicated they were not able to speak and the suspect was looking out the windows of the house. Due to this information, the Rhinelander Police Department requested that the Oneida County Special Response Team be paged. The Oneida County Special Response Team requested Langlade County Special Response Team and Marathon County Special Response Team be paged to assist. The telecommunicator continued to ask the caller questions where the caller could answer 'yes' or 'no' as well as questions where the caller could choose from several answers by pressing a certain number of buttons. When asked, the caller indicated the home owner, was the shooter and suspect in the incident. The caller also indicated the caller was male. When asked the caller confirmed, they were someone we had listed as being at the residence in the past. When given a list of weapons in the home, the caller indicated that along with firearms and bows, there were explosives in the home. Due to this information, the Marathon/Oneida County Bomb Squad was paged to respond to the area. As law enforcement created a perimeter around the suspect house, a neighbor approached a deputy and reported an eight- or nine-year-old child lived at the residence. Sheriff's office records confirmed this information. When asked about the child, the caller indicated the child had been shot in the legs. The caller at one time indicated to the telecommunicator that the child was deceased, but contradicted this information later in the call. The caller stayed on the phone for 55 minutes with the telecommunicator, but the call ended abruptly. Due to the report by the caller, the homeowner was believed to be the suspect and this information was provided to law enforcement on the scene. Before further information could be obtained, the homeowner exited his home unexpectedly and he was detained by the Oneida County Special Response Team. The homeowner was transported to the hospital. While at the hospital, the homeowner indicated no one was in the house with him. The house was searched and it was confirmed the homeowner had been alone."
In her statement, Hook refers to the call as "unique." She also stressed that the telecommunicator performed their duties in a professional manner.
"It is unusual for a caller not to speak with dispatch when they call," she wrote. "The situation indicated by the caller through the use of the button pressing technique appeared probable and the caller's inability to speak validated the credibility of the call. We are aware that there was a very large presence of law enforcement resource in the area on Friday night, but this is the type of response needed if this situation had truly occurred. As soon as we determined that this was in fact only a medical issue, we deescalated quickly. A review of the initial 911 call reveals that the telecommunicator who took the call acted in a professional manner to ensure the caller as well as the responding personnel were safe. Due to the fact the caller was responding to the telecommunicator and providing primarily consistent information, the telecommunicator had no way of knowing that the situation was not as it was being reported. Law enforcement must respond to what is reported until it can be proven otherwise. Our primary responsibility is the safety of the community and the safety of our personnel. Our actions were in protection of the community and our personnel."
Lueneburg was grateful for the help from surrounding agencies.
"I want to extend my thanks to Marathon County, Langlade, Lincoln, the Oneida County Sheriff's Department, the surrounding fire departments, our city fire department, everybody that responded to the call of mutual aid to this event," Lueneburg said. "We're in deep appreciation to them. We can't handle an event this large without cooperative relationships with other emergency services responders. So thank you to all of you."
Lueneburg said the man who made the call to dispatch may have been having a "diabetic problem" which may have caused "some possible confusion and possibly led him to provide some inaccurate information" which led to the response.
"But we're happy this turned out to be nothing," Lueneburg said. "I feel sorry for the gentleman for his health issues, but I'm glad nobody was hurt due to a gunshot wound."
When asked if the shooting in Marathon County just over two weeks ago that resulted in the deaths of four people, including a police officer, had led to a formal re-evaluation of how northern Wisconsin law enforcement agencies handle such situations, Lueneburg said the response was the same as it has always been, but that responders have more awareness of how deadly things can turn.
"I wouldn't say we've had a formal re-evaluation, but it brings more defined awareness as to how we do respond," Lueneburg said. "Any time we get events where someone could be in a hostage situation or something like that, we want to ensure safety, get that person to safety, eliminate the threat and make sure the surrounding area to where this is occurring is safe as well. Community safety is our driving force, we need to make sure our people are safe."
Jamie Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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