Ralls Co. sheriff confirms year-old shooting at 911 center

Published on Aug. 14, 2013 by KHQA

A Missouri judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate a shooting that took place nearly a year ago inside the Ralls County 911 building, Ralls County Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie said.

The investigation is centered around why no one reported the incident to police, Dinwiddie said in response to information contained in an anonymous tip received Monday by a KHQA reporter.

Dinwiddie would not reveal the names of the 911 employees interviewed as part of the investigation or the name of the former employee accused of shooting multiple holes in the walls of former 911 director Laurie Means' office.

“The warrants haven't been filed, so I can't say who it is,” Dinwiddie said.

A result a search warrant was authorized and executed July 2 at the center located at 17630 Highway 19, according to a release made Friday by the Sheriff's Office. Unspecified evidence was recovered during the search. 

Ralls County Associate Circuit Judge David Mobley appointed Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Talley Kendrick to oversee the investigation, Dinwiddie said.

News of  the investigation comes amid an upheaval within the 911 system that serves New London and other small communities within Ralls County.

Means abruptly resigned June 17 after a lengthy meeting with the Ralls County 911 board members.

A month later, the board voted to cease all 911 operations at the center and laid off all of the remaining staff.

The board hired Marion County 911 director Mike Hall to run the agency on a month-to-month basis until it can get its house in order. Hall would not comment on the shooting investigation.

It's unclear whether the clean sweep of employees and Means' resignation are connected with the shooting investigation.

Kendrick was unavailable for an interview Wednesday afternoon.

The board hasn't discussed the incident at recent public meetings held to discuss the fate of the Ralls County 911 system.

Tuesday night's meeting saw the board approve the placing of a half-cent sales tax increase referendum on the November ballot.

Court documents allege cover-up in Ralls 911 building shooting

Published on Nov. 1, 2013 by KHQA

RALLS COUNTY, MO. -- A Ralls County investigator recommended that three former 911 employees face criminal charges in an investigation related to a 2012 shooting inside the county's dispatch center, according to documents obtained by KHQA.

Details of the incident have remained under wraps since a special prosecutor was appointed in July of this year to examine the year-old incident. The investigation was also spurred by the sudden resignation of former 911 director Laurie Means.

According to the documents:

Ralls County Deputy Richard Adair interviewed former 911 dispatcher Janis Caldwell June 9, 2013, During the interview she detailed how fellow former 911dispatchers Jared LaForce and Steven McLaine, along with Means, covered up what appeared to be a shooting inside the dispatch building.

Caldwell said LaForce had a habit of bringing firearms to work. On one occasion she witnessed him shoot a skunk in the dispatch center parking lot.

Later, she noticed that a prominently displayed mirror inside the building went missing. She brought it to Means' attention, but was told that it wasn't a problem.

Caldwell and other employees reviewed surveillance footage from inside the building. In the video during the night in question, Caldwell noticed that the mirror suddenly cracked about 4:50 a.m. LaForce and McLaine approached the mirror. Means was seen examining the mirror.

She took the mirror to the dumpster as the two men cleaned up drywall. Means left the building and returned with drywall spackle and filled in a small hole. Means fixed the hole by 6 a.m.

Caldwell said she noticed LaForce leave after his shift ended with a bag that he normally used to store his guns. Caldwell again brought her concerns to Means who assured her that the issue was dealt with.

Caldwell told two Ralls County 911 board members that she intended to attend an upcoming board meeting to discuss what she saw on the video.

Means called Caldwell several times and confronted her saying that she shouldn't attend the meeting. Means also scheduled Caldwell to work the night of the meeting.

A week before she was scheduled to meet with board members, the surveillance video disappeared. Caldwell told investigators that Means asked LaForce to rewire the building's security system so that only the director could view the video.

Caldwell eventually gave a statement to the board via speaker phone during her shift at the 911 center. The board voted to place LaForce on paid suspension and to forward the investigation to the Missouri Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control. Two days later LaForce resigned.

During the investigation, Adair interviewed three other 911 dispatchers who said that they watched the now missing 911 video. Their accounts of what took place on the video matched Caldwell's.

For bringing the matter to the board, Caldwell said Means refused to put her on the schedule and was unofficially fired from her position.

Deputies interviewed McClain on May 31. He recalled the incident where LaForce shot the skunk, but denied that a shooting ever took place inside the building.

Adair met with LaForce on June 3. LaForce denied all of the allegations and walked out of the meeting.

Means refused to meet with investigators. She resigned her post June 18.

Adair recommended that all three face criminal charges including felony and misdemeanors. None of them have been indicted as of today.

In the wake of her resignation and the allegations, the board appointed Marion County 911 director Mike Hall to oversee the Ralls County operation.

The board voted in July to dismiss the remaining 911 employees.

LaForce is also accused of using his position as a 911 dispatcher on two occasions to alert relatives of their respective roles in two police investigations.

According to court documents, on May 18, 2012, James Kelley told a New London police officer that his half-brother worked at the 911 and was told that police were planning to kick in his doors.

Similarly, on June 9, 2012, police were searching for another of LaForce's relatives. During a traffic stop they were told that the relative fled after receiving a text message. Caldwell told investigators that she witnessed LaForce sending text messages as the incident was dispatched.

LaForce could face additional charges.

Ralls County residents will vote on a sales tax this Tuesday at a rate not to exceed 1 percent for the purpose of providing central dispatching of fire protection and emergency ambulance service.

Documents: Police didn't trust Ralls 911 dispatchers

Published on Nov. 4, 2013 by KHQA

RALLS COUNTY, MO. -- Ralls County police and law enforcement became so wary of possible leaks to criminal suspects from 911 dispatchers that officers routinely avoided contacting dispatchers to get routine criminal history and motor vehicle information.

A new wave of investigative documents from a special prosecutor's Ralls County 911 investigation reveal deeper institutional issues, threats and more details about the cover-up of a gun discharge inside the dispatch center.

The search warrant returns obtained Monday by KHQA through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that despite being brought to her attention on numerous occasions, former 911 director Laurie Means failed to report leaks from her employees to people who were the subjects of ongoing criminal investigations.

Click here for probable cause statements. Click here for the warrant documents.

“It was so commonplace that any investigations with sensitive information, the officers would bypass the 911 center regarding criminal histories or motor vehicle checks to avoid being released,” the report from Ralls County Deputy Richard Adair said.

Means also kept little or no records of the complaints brought to her about dispatchers Kara Klise and Jared LaForce on file, according to the documents.

“At no times were the matters referred back to law enforcement for criminal investigations,” Adair's Aug. 23 report says. “In one incident there was a superficial internal investigation, and in another, Director Means warned the employee who reported the criminal activity to 'keep her mouth shut.'”

The reports are part of the ongoing investigation that resulted in Means' July resignation and the board's decision in August to temporarily shutter the Ralls County 911 dispatch center and layoff all of its employees.

New London Police Chief Brad Sanders told Means in January 2011 that he learned that dispatcher Kara Klise sent out text messages to release information about warrants. A letter discovered during the July 2 search of the 911 building showed that Means did a cursory internal investigation and noted that it was the second time that Klise was suspected of releasing information.

LaForce was accused in two incidents.

On Oct. 31, 2011 he's accused of releasing information regarding a felony warrant for his brother Michael Christopher Welch. Ralls 911 employee Janis Caldwell told Means about the incident. There was no information about the complaint in LaForce's personnel file.

Another officer made a similar complaint about LaForce on May 18, 2012. New London police officer Chris Flynn said he documented LaForce reaching out to his half brother in connection with a criminal investigation.

LaForce, Means and former dispatcher Steven McLaine are also accused of trying to cover up a shooting that took place in the early morning of April 11, 2012 inside the 911 center building.

Police confiscated sections of drywall and insulation. An examination with a metal detector revealed a metal fragment of a jacketed bullet buried inside, according to court documents.

Means documented the incident that day saying that LaForce got angry and threw his phone and struck a mirror, according to the documents. Means issued a false reprimand for the incident.

However, several dispatchers and employees said that they viewed video surveillance footage of the morning in question. They saw the mirror shatter and LaForce and McLaine clean up the area. Means patched a hole in the drywall.

LaForce was later seen leaving the building with a black bag he used to carry his guns, according to the paperwork. Several employees previous complained about LaForce bringing his gun to work.

LaForce was later put in charge of rewiring the dispatch center's surveillance system. The video in question was deleted, according to court documents.

Caldwell complained to two Ralls County 911 board members and told investigators that she was scheduled to work the night of the regular meeting once Means learned what she planned to tell the board.

Caldwell later gave a statement to the board via speakerphone during her dispatching shift.

Current Ralls County Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie, a former Ralls County 911 board member, also appears in the investigative documents.

In a document found in her office, Means accused Dinwiddie of pressuring dispatcher Caldwell to appear before the 911 board. The pressure, according to Means, led to Caldwell's eventual resignation from the 911 dispatch center, according to documents. Caldwell later told investigators that she left because Means stopped putting her on the schedules.

Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Talley Kendrick was appointed to oversee the investigation.

There have been no criminal charges filed, but an investigating officer recommended that Means, LaForce and McLaine face criminal charges.