Witness Critical of 911 Response to City Grill Violence

August 24, 2010 Updated Aug 24, 2010 at 7:02 PM EDT

By Ginger Geoffery

August 24, 2010 Updated Aug 24, 2010 at 7:02 PM EDT

A witness to the deadly shootings that happened outside of downtown Buffalo's City Grill in the early morning of August 14th says the murders might have been prevented if his call to 911 hadn't been put on hold.

The witness says he called 9-1-1 minutes before the shootings when a fight broke out at the City Grill, but says he never got to tell the operator exactly what was happening because he was put on hold and he eventually hung up. A lawyer at the Hogan Willig law firm showed Eyewitness News a screen shot of the witness's phone that shows a call to 911 that lasted one minute 25 seconds before ending at 2:31 a.m. on August 14th. The witness told an investigator at Hogan Willig that he "told the dispatcher not to put him on hold and that he needed help right away because things were going to escalate. (The witness) wanted police to respond with sirens to disperse the troublemakers."

"People were being jostled and pushed and people were being pepper-sprayed (by City Grill security guards)," says Steven M. Cohen, an attorney with Hogan Willig.

The witness says he hung up as the fight grew even more heated. He told the investigator a "guy in the purple shirt said something about wanting to 'snuff a guy'."

"So he now had to take action for his own safety and he had to hang up the phone," says Cohen.

The witness says four or five minutes after he hung up he heard the first shots. He and others ran back toward the City Grill. The witness told the investigator the "glass broke and a bullet went through the window of the club, striking a girl in the neck."

"Had Central Police Services properly handled this call and dispatched police officers this incident never would have happened," says Cohen.

An Erie County spokesperson though says police may have already been dispatched when this particular witness's call came in to the call center. The spokesperson says 911 received 60 calls during a ten minute window around the time of the shootings, and the County hasn't been provided with this witness's phone number so they can't verify when his call came in in relation to others, or verify if it was put on hold.

The County spokesperson says the call center had a full staff of six 911 operators on duty for the overnight shift that night, but when an incident like the shootings occurs it will often generate a high volume of calls and operators do have to make judgement calls.