A Denver 911 operator was mistaken when he told a motorist to return to the area where he and his companions had been threatened in a road-rage incident — moments before a fatal shooting, the head of the city's emergency phone system acknowledged Monday.
Jimma Reat, a 24-year-old Sudanese refugee, died in the incident.
Reat and three companions had safely returned to his Wheat Ridge apartment and called 911 to report the altercation early Sunday when the 911 operator instructed them to drive back to Denver and wait for a police officer.
While they waited, a Jeep that had been involved in the earlier incident appeared and someone opened fire, killing Reat.
"The call transpired very quickly," said Carl Simpson, executive director of Denver 911. "It got sideways very quickly. I am deeply saddened by the events that transpired. This call left me very saddened for the family."
Of the operator, Simpson said: "I do know he didn't follow procedures."
The operator, who will be placed on leave while an investigation of his actions is underway, has been in the position for two years, Simpson said. He didn't name the man, who failed to dispatch a police officer for about four minutes after one of Reat's brothers told him that a carload of men, one of them flourishing a gun, threatened them, according to a timeline of the incident provided by the Denver Manager of Safety's Office.
The incident began after Reat, two of his brothers and a friend got into an altercation with a group of men in a red Jeep about 4 a.m. Sunday at Sheridan Boulevard and West 10th Avenue.
Reat's brother, Gatwec Dengpathot, said the group had returned to the parking lot at Reat's apartment in Wheat Ridge after the altercation, during which someone threatened them with a gun.
"That is what really got me mad," Dengpathot said. "If they actually knew that there was a threat starting from 10th, why would they send the boys back to the other side of Denver. This is something that could have been avoided.
"My brother was a good, loving guy and he had no problem with anybody and he shouldn't have died that way."
The operator told them to return to Denver, find a safe spot to park and wait for police. One of Reat's brothers, who was driving the Dodge Charger, was on a cellphone talking to the operator.
"He told the dispatcher that it isn't safe there," Dengpathot said. "We don't want to go there, that is where the problem happened, they were threatening us with a gun."
But after a few moments, "they finally submitted to the (operator's) authority" and returned to West 29th Avenue, just east of Sheridan Boulevard, within Denver's border, Dengpathot said.
They got out of the car and waited and then saw the red Jeep coming toward them.
"Jimma yelled out, 'Here comes those guys and they've got a gun,' " Dengpathot said. "Then four of them got out and one of them started firing."
Instead of telling the brothers to come back to Denver, the operator should have collaborated with authorities in Wheat Ridge but didn't contact them, Simpson said. Had he done so, Wheat Ridge police could have responded to the apartment.
Denver 911 operators do tell people to come back to Denver when they have been involved in a minor incident such as a fender-bender, Simpson said.
"I do know he didn't follow policies," Simpson said. "It does sound like he was following lower-level policies in a higher-level event."
The original incident started at a traffic light as the group was driving north on Sheridan, at West 10th, when the Jeep rolled up beside the Charger, and the men inside started to call them "names using the N-word," Dengpathot said.
The men, he said, got out of the Jeep and threw beer bottles, breaking the Charger's rear window. Reat's brother called 911 at 4:12 a.m., according to the timeline.
Reat and his companions followed the Jeep while the brother stayed on the phone to give the operator information and license plate information. When the Jeep sped up, they gave up the pursuit and headed to Reat's apartment a few blocks away in Wheat Ridge.
At the dispatcher's behest, they returned to 29th at Sheridan, and at 4:25 a.m. the dispatcher assigned a police officer to the call.
About two minutes later, the dispatcher called for an ambulance.