A Scathing Review
Canton Police Chief Jeff Lance resigned Thursday, hours before the city made public an unflattering review of the police department's work during the search for Canton Elementary first-grader Jorelys Rivera. Here's the Cliffs Notes version.
He talked about the upcoming SEC Championship game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the LSU Tigers.
Ultimately, he turned on a television to a football game.
Those were some of the revelations laid out in a 17-page review prepared by LaGrange Public Safety Chief Louis M. Dekmar, the man the city hired last month at a pay rate of $150 an hour to assess how the police department handled the search for the slain 7-year-old girl.
"Canton police personnel repeatedly commented that they thought that they were handling a 'runaway and that she would turn up,' " Dekmar wrote on page 11 of the report. "This was the mindset and the tenor that guided the Department's response to the incident."
Dekmar concluded that "if a subsequent missing child report were to be approached in the same manner as was the Rivera case, the Canton Police Department may indeed miss an opportunity to save a victim's life."
If you don't have time to pore over the document, here are some of the other findings:
- The Canton Police Department responded to a report of a missing 7-year-old child at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2. It suspended the search at 2 a.m. Dec. 3, but maintained a presence at the apartment complex.
- At 4 p.m. Dec. 4, Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison spoke with GBI Director Vernon Keenan and requested the assistance of the agency's Child Abduction Response Team.
- With that team in place, Canton police searched apartments that had previously been inspected and located the crime scene at 9 p.m. Dec. 4.
- Neither Lance nor Todd Vande Zande, the man tapped to serve as interim chief on Thursday, immediately responded to the scene once they were notified of Jorelys' disappearance.
- Searchers were briefed and advised that Jorelys was missing, but had a history of running away and staying away from home.
- The apartment complex's Dumpsters were checked, but the trash compactor where authorities ultimately found Jorelys' severely beaten body was not. When police contacted Waste Management on Dec. 3, they were told that the trash compactor "could not be checked until" Dec. 5, a Monday. "The Police Department apparently made no effort to secure the trash compactor or to station someone at the compactor until it could be examined," Dekmar wrote when he revisited the issue on page 13.
- Though the Canton Police Missing Persons Policy and the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 requires immediate entry into the National Crime Information Center's Missing Persons File, 48 hours passed before a detective reported Jorelys' case to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- "The Canton Police Department made a modest request for assistance initially but failed to activate substantial investigative assets for almost 48 hours after the Rivera child was last seen," Dekmar wrote. The Canton Police Missing Persons Policy requires the department "mobilize all resources available."
- "The nature of the Department's response repeatedly was characterized by Canton police personnel as: 'We will search and find her, like we have done with all the others,' " Dekmar wrote. "Prior to the Rivera case the Canton Police Department had investigated 39 missing children incidents in 2011."
- "Personnel present at the scene frequently characterized the Chief's level of concern as 'laid back,' " Dekmar wrote. "There is no evidence that the police chief was sufficiently engaged at the time to recognize that the command post venue, located in the leasing office and clubhouse of the apartment complex, was problematic." As discussions and investigative leads occurred in the clubhouse, employees continued work as normal. At one point, Ryan Brunn, the 20-year-old maintenance worker who confessed on Tuesday to killing Jorelys, was "observed in the area of the command post during its operation."
- "Suggestions or offers of assistance were made to the Department," Dekmar wrote. "These were relayed to the police chief and taken under advisement. However they were not accepted at the time they were made."
- "Numerous personnel from a variety of agencies indicated that working this incident, prior to Sunday evening, 'was like walking on eggshells,' " Dekmar wrote. "... Whether this feeling was consistent with the Police Chief's actual intentions is irrelevant. That perception created unnecessary hesitation and trepidation in the assisting agencies during the critical first 48 hours of this event and it inhibited the responses of a variety of outside agencies."
- "Despite its lack of an initial coordinated investigative plan during the first 48 hours after the initial missing child report concerning Jorelys Rivera's disappearance," Dekmar wrote, "several outside law enforcement agencies who later were involved in the homicide investigation suggested that the Canton Police Department's continued presence at the apartment complex hindered the disposal of Rivera's body outside of the immediate area of the complex ... and that eventually resulted in the recovery of the body."