Constable's unanswered call for help

advertisement | advertise on newsday

It was 15 minutes before 3 on the afternoon of Friday,

July 16 when Richard Brooks spotted a white sport utility vehicle weaving south

on the Robert Moses Causeway and decided to follow.

Brooks, a retired New York City police lieutenant and part-time Babylon bay

constable, switched on the flashing roof lights, pulled his Jeep Liberty

behind the SUV, and radioed the town dispatcher for backup.

But as the low-speed four-mile chase wound over the causeway, west on Ocean

Parkway, then back again east before entering a gated beach community, help

never arrived.

The incident ended at 3:08 p.m. when the man Brooks was pursuing ran inside

advertisement | advertise on newsday

his house, pointed a 12-gauge shotgun out a second-story window and shot

Brooks in the chest as he stood in the driveway. Twenty-three minutes after he

first called for help, Brooks died alone on James Wilson's driveway.

"That's a ridiculously long time to have to wait for backup," said one

high-ranking police source with knowledge of the incident. "You never know

@Newsday

who's inside the car you're after. It could be someone who's just robbed a

bank. You have no way of knowing their emotional state. That's why it's

imperative that you call for help."

When Brooks, 44, first spotted the SUV, he had no way of knowing that

Wilson, 42, had already drank himself "legless" at a nearby bar and was so

advertisement | advertise on newsday

distraught he was heading home to "blow his brains out," according to one of

Wilson's friends who spoke to him that day.

The bay constable was thinking and acting like a police officer but he was

not afforded the tools or support of one that Friday, according to police

sources. Several factors and circumstances may have left Brooks more vulnerable

advertisement | advertise on newsday

than he should have been. The radio in Brooks' town-issued car restricted his

ability to call for backup himself. The town dispatcher didn't follow

established protocol, which is to notify 911, according to town and police

officials. There were only four state troopers patrolling the parkways of

Suffolk County that day and none was within reach. And no one called Suffolk

police - the most robust force in the county - until after Brooks was killed.

"It took so long to get somebody there," said one of the law enforcement

officers who responded to the incident but asked not to be identified. "It all

comes down to response time, which boils down to roadway, personnel and lack of

communication." Wilson was shot and killed by New York State Parks Police Sgt.

James Sadousky, who was alerted to the incident just two minutes before Brooks

was killed. Both shootings are being investigated by Suffolk County Police

Department Homicide Squad, as is routine.

When the chase began, Brooks immediately called the Town of Babylon

dispatcher at 2:45 p.m., according to a town official and Suffolk homicide

investigators. He asked the dispatcher to run Wilson's plates and requested

backup.

Unlike county, town or State Police officers, bay constables drive

town-issued cars outfitted with radios that can neither monitor nor call into

police frequencies. They can only transmit between bay constables and the town

dispatcher.

The reason for this, town and police officials say, is that although they

carry handguns, constables are not empowered to take on the majority of police

work. Within their geographic jurisdiction, they can enforce some violations or

misdemeanor-level infractions, including erratic drivers. Mostly, they focus

on camping and boating permit requirements.

"Basically, you are putting a guy out there with a gun and telling him to

enforce the laws, and even though he's not going to [domestic dispute calls]

and bank robberies, as soon as he tells somebody they have to comply with the

law and that person decides they are not going to, he is in the same situation

as any other cop," the law enforcement source said.

Babylon Harbor Master Tim Taylor, who supervises the constables,said he had

never encountered an incident of this kind before. Three town constables were

working that day. Taylor and another town constable were aboard a boat

patrolling the Great South Bay when they heard Brooks' request for backup on

the constable radio frequency. Taylor used a cell phone to call and ask the

Suffolk County Marine Bureau if their car was available. They said they would

check. Reached yesterday, the Marine Bureau said they had no record of the

communication and did not know if one of their officers was sent.

At the same time, Brooks was relaying the progress of his pursuit to a town

dispatcher on his limited-range radio.

Reliance on dispatchers

Constables have always relied on their town dispatcher, and the dispatcher

has always come through, Taylor said. They have never needed to contact other

police agencies directly because they seldom engage in vehicle and traffic

enforcement. Taylor said he didn't believe the constables' limited radio system

delayed the arrival of backup.

"The system hasn't failed us yet, and I don't believe it did on this day

either," Taylor said.

State troopers, state parks police and county police would have quickly

been able to call for a wider net of assistance through their radios, police

sources said.

But it's different for bay constables in Babylon Town. "The protocol is,

you call the dispatch and the dispatch calls 911," said Ronald Kluesener, chief

of staff for Town Supervisor Steven Bellone. "You get Yaphank [Suffolk police

headquarters] and then Yaphank decides who to direct you to."

That is not what happened, according to police sources.

When Brooks radioed in, he said the erratic driver was "weaving side to

side of the road, he's going to kill somebody," according to the Babylon Town

dispatcher on duty that day, John Grosso, 69, of Deer Park. Grosso, a retired

New York City homicide detective, said he bypassed 911 because from his

experience, he thought he would get a quicker response by going straight to the

State Police. "I'm talking to a trooper. The dispatchers, they ask so many

questions before they dispatch a car," Grosso said

In retrospect, Grosso said that "If the bay constables had radio tie-in

with police, they would have had a faster response," the dispatcher said.

Grosso used a landline phone to contact a State Police dispatcher, who

contacted two State Police barracks - first in Farmingdale and then in

Brentwood - to request reinforcement from available troopers, according to

Suffolk homicide officials.

Of the four troopers on duty in the county, one had responded to a problem

in the Hampton Bays area. Another was enforcing the speed limit along the

Northern State Parkway. And the other two had transported an elderly man to

Stony Brook University Hospital after he threatened to jump off the Robert

Moses Causeway into the Great South Bay.

Even though State Police are responsible for patrolling the causeway, there

were no available troopers to send from either barrack, Suffolk homicide

investigators said.

"Everybody knows the State Police are all smoke and mirrors," one state

parks police officer said. "They barely have anybody on the roads."

State Police Lt. Robert Mahon said the staffing levels weren't an issue.

"Four is adequate to cover the area we patrol in Suffolk County," Mahon said.

"However, due to circumstances, people do get tied up." He said the State

Police did send cars to the scene but wouldn't say how many were sent, what

time they were sent, or how far they were from the incident.

Normally, if they don't have anyone in the vicinity, State Police reach out

to Suffolk or state parks police to cover the call, Mahon said.

By the time state parks police was notified by the State Police, it was

3:06 p.m., said parks police Maj. Richard O'Donnell. The pursuit was 21 minutes

and counting.

Suffolk police were never called to back up Brooks by the town dispatcher

or the State Police, according to Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer,

who said they would have been able to send someone.

"We were told by the Town of Babylon that they had contacted Suffolk County

Marine [Bureau]. If we're told that Suffolk County was advised, there's no

reason for us to call for help," Mahon said.

When asked why the dispatcher never called Suffolk County via 911, Taylor

said, "I don't know," adding, "it really didn't sound like anything other than

Richie was just trying to find out why this guy was driving erratically."

Town chief of staff Kluesener said, in retrospect, "I don't think anybody

had a sense of urgency here. Nobody thought this was going to escalate to the

level that it did."

Dormer declined to address whether mistakes had been made: "I can't

second-guess what happened with this thing; this isn't the perfect world."

Robert Friedmann, a professor of criminal justice at Georgia State

University in Atlanta said a lack of coordination between police agencies is

common all over the country. "Law enforcement agencies are not set up to talk

to each other, unfortunately," he said. "Mostly, if an agency wants to talk to

another agency, they pick up the phone and call. It's definitely not the

optimal, it's the reality."

Friedmann said the multiple agencies involved and their disparate

communications systems may have left Brooks to face Wilson alone. "What could

have gone wrong went wrong," he said. Had Brooks been able to contact police

directly, several law enforcement sources said, he may have had reinforcement

when he pulled up to Wilson's house.

Backup is essential to safe policing, Friedmann said.

Approximately five state parks police officers, several of whom had

gathered in a parking lot outside the Robert Moses parks police station to

discuss security for a concert the next day, got word of the dispatcher's call,

O'Donnell said. They were about three miles from Wilson's house.

Among them was Sgt. James Sadousky, who was en route to that meeting,

O'Donnell said.

"I was coming over the dry bridge [the northern portion of the causeway]

and our radio dispatch was calling the Robert Moses patrols to say that the

State Police heard that a bay constable was in pursuit of somebody somewhere in

the vicinity of the Oak Beach Inn parking lot, but that they didn't have a car

to send," Sadousky said.

By then, Wilson had already led Brooks into the Oak Island Beach

Association, a residential community, with its labyrinth of narrow roads, tall

grass and hairpin turns.

For more than a year, Wilson had been seeing a psychiatrist to cope with

suicidal impulses, his friend said. He had been taking the anti-depressant

Xanax.

That morning, Wilson and his wife, Patricia, had fought, Suffolk police

said.

Call from suspect's wife

There were so many Babylon Town security details using the same radio

frequency, Grosso said he had trouble hearing Brooks' exact location when he

arrived at Wilson's house. Grosso said he told Brooks at that point, "Backup is

on the way. Stay back. He may be armed."

Brooks responded with sarcasm, 'Thanks, John, you made my day.'"

Wilson ran into his home and right past his wife who was standing by the

front door and headed quickly upstairs, the friend said. From the first floor,

Patricia Wilson heard noises coming from upstairs, perhaps a window opening.

Then she saw Brooks pull up in front of the house. That's when she heard a gun

go off.

"She opened the front door to tell the bay constable to come in because she

thought her husband just killed himself and instead she sees the guy laying

out there in a pool of blood," the friend said.

Patricia Wilson used her cell phone to call 911 at 3:08. "When she made the

call, that was our first notification," said Commissioner Dormer. "We didn't

know what was going on until our call from the wife."

After her call to 911, dozens of patrol cars from the Suffolk County Police

Department and other nearby agencies rushed to the scene - summoning the help

Brooks didn't get.

As she was dialing, Wilson ran out the front door and drove off in the SUV,

running over Brooks.

Sadousky was driving into Wilson's gated community as Wilson was heading

out. The parks police sergeant had little idea what had happened, or who he was

looking for, he said. Wilson emerged from around a bend and headed directly

toward him.

"He came head to head with me and then drove off [into] the grass,"

Sadousky said. "When I got out of the car, he made that choice."

The choice Wilson made, Sadousky said, was to reach for his shotgun. "He

just had the gun in his hand and pointed it at me," Sadousky said.

Sadousky fired a single shot that struck his heart, police have said.

Twenty-seven minutes had elapsed since Brooks' first radio call when a

second 911 call from a neighbor went over the radio at 3:12 p.m. indicating

that shots had been fired.

"Nobody knew that Mr. Brooks was dead until after I had had my

confrontation with Mr. Wilson," Sadousky said.

You also may be interested in: