SALT LAKE CITY — When an ex-convict climbed through her window in Salt Lake City and stabbed her repeatedly four years ago, Breann Lasley says the emergency response system that should have rushed to send help to her ended up nearly costing her life.
She is now suing a Utah company over what she says is a faulty 911 protocol that would have resulted in her death if a nearby police officer had not happened to hear her sister’s cries and intervened.
“They failed us that night,” Lasley said. “If she didn’t leave to get more help, then we really would be dead, because help wasn’t coming.”
Lasley and her sister, Kayli, called 911 four times after Robert Richard Berger broke in through Lasley’s window on Sept. 23, 2015, yelling out their address and saying, “Help us, he’s going to kill us,” according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court.
“Priority Dispatch Corp. created a technological monster, promoted it as being regulated and approved by a bogus regulatory body, and left Bre to fight off an armed assailant alone without police assistance,” the lawsuit claims.
“If not for the intervention of the ‘angel’ officer, Bre would be dead.”
Berger had been released from the Utah State Prison eight days prior to the attacks and had walked away from a halfway house.
At 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 210 pounds, he kicked, choked, and stabbed Lasley several times as her sister ran from the house screaming. Salt Lake police officer Ben Hone, who was three blocks away, rushed toward the noises.
Minutes later, Hone entered the home and shot and killed Berger. Hone’s actions were called heroic and the shooting was also determined to be legally justified. The shot he fired to kill Berger — who was holding Lasley in a tight grip — was a “difficult shot” that had no room for error, according to officials.
Lasley’s attorneys now argue that police were never dispatched to her home because the rigid software system required dispatchers to ask a scripted series of questions and obtain the answers before sending police to the scene.
“Dispatchers should be able to act on intuition and when they hear an address, help needs to be sent immediately,” Lasley said. “No one’s life should have to depend on prompted scripts or predetermined questions.”
In the 911 calls from Breann and Kayli Lasley, obtained by KSL in 2015 through a public records request, each be heard screaming their home address without having a direct conversation with the dispatcher.
The lawsuit alleges Priority Dispatch, based in Salt Lake City, sold its software around the world and touted itself as the only system approved by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. Yet the software program’s inventor founded the ‘bogus’ regulatory group, the lawsuit says. It names both entities as defendants.
Lasley’s attorneys contend the company and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch sought to represent the software as cutting-edge technology and offered it at no cost, but with a potential fee of $1 million if it failed to train dispatchers to strictly comply with scripted prompts and questions.
Scott Freitag, the president of the international academies from 2003 to 2016, also was director of Salt Lake City’s 911 communications office from 2015 to 2018, the suit says. Freitag, now the mayor of Layton, was fired from his Salt Lake post in 2018 after he was arrested for driving drunk in a city vehicle in the middle of the day.
Dispatchers should be able to act on intuition and when they hear an address, help needs to be sent immediately.
The company did not respond to requests for an interview. A spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the office doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits but the city stopped using the software for police calls last month, though it still is used for medical calls.
Freitag told KSL on Wednesday he was unaware of the legal complaint and said the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch has no regulatory authority. He said he believes police were in fact sent to the home that day.
“My memory tells me that police were dispatched to that call. I don’t remember the details of what occurred with that call, other than a police officer arrived and shot the suspect,” he said. “If she called and was screaming on the phone, that would have been a high priority call, regardless of what questions were asked after that.”
The suit alleges Lasley was left awaiting medical attention for a time even after her attacker had been killed.
She is seeking more than $300,000 in damages to compensate in part for her physical and emotional pain, medical costs, plus diminished job earnings and quality of life. Lasley said she hopes her legal fight will help change the system so others are spared experiences like her own.
“I’m still here. I’m standing,” she said. “It’s a little empowering, but it’s terrifying, too.”