CenturyLink says it provided correct address to dispatch in fatal Clinton 911 call

CenturyLink, a telephone company that provides service to Henry County, Mo., where a police officer was shot dead after being dispatched the wrong house, pushed back on claims that an error in its database was responsible for the fatal mistake.

Officer Christopher Ryan Morton, a member of the Clinton Police Department, was killed on March 6 when dispatchers sent him and other officers to a house in Clinton. He entered that house and encountered James Waters, who was armed. Morton died after a gun battle. Waters also died, although the circumstances of his death remain unclear.

The actual 911 call came from Windsor, a town 20 miles away. The call was made on a land line.

"CenturyLink takes all public safety issues seriously, particularly those involving first responders," said CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen in an email on Thursday evening. "We conducted a thorough investigation which shows that when the 911 call was placed, CenturyLink provided the correct phone number and address."

CenturyLink's statement contradicts an earlier statement made by Henry County 911 Emergency Communications sent on March 9 that indicated the agency's belief that an error had been made in a master street address guide, which was provided by CenturyLink.

Reached by phone on Thursday and told of CenturyLink's statement, Henry County 911 Emergency Communications chairman Ken Scott said "I don't have a reason to challenge that."

"Assuming they're right, they delivered the right address," Scott said.

Scott suggested Henry County's computer assisted dispatching and mapping system may have had an error. That would mean if CenturyLink is correct, the problem was with Henry County's technology.

"Our computer system could not interpret and map it," Scott said.

The discrepancy raises concerns about the accuracy of Henry County's 911 system, which the county said was recently upgraded and meets Missouri's highest level of service.

"Our concern is are there others? And how many? And let's get them corrected," Scott said.

Land line phone calls are regarded as the most reliable method of placing a 911 call for dispatchers to determine the origin of an emergency call.

Locating a 911 call is a crucial tool for emergency dispatchers, especially in a situation where a caller either is not speaking directly to dispatchers or can't identify their location.

In the case of the fatal March 6 call in Henry County, dispatchers heard two women arguing for 45 seconds, neither of whom spoke to the dispatchers to clarify their location before the call ended. The call came from a land line.

Typically, a land line emergency call will access a database maintained by the telephone company, which sends a dispatcher the address from which a call is placed. Sometimes errors occur in those databases.

CenturyLink insisted its database was correct.

"We're looking to see what do we need to do next to make sure the mapping system is correct," Scott said.

Two other police officers were injured in the March 6 incident. A woman who answered the door at the Clinton address was arrested after the gun battle.

Tammy Dee Widger is in jail facing a felony murder charge. She told The Star on Wednesday during an interview at the Henry County jail that she had no reason to think officers were in danger, nor that Waters was armed.

"I didn't know what was going to happen," Widger said. "In the blink of an eye, my life changed. I didn't want this."

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