911 Calls Illuminate Shooting Timeline
samantha celera via flickr
The 911 recordings released last week provide further insight into events preceding and following the fatal shooting of an Albuquerque man by his neighbor in March on the Westside.
On March 19, 2013, the calls came in immediately before and after 11:30 p.m. Donnie Pearson—and his 15-year-old son—set off that night to investigate reports of a strange man with a gun, and Pearson fatally shot 23-year-old Iraq War veteran Jonathan Mitchell. Mitchell died after Pearson’s investigation led him to the front of Mitchell’s house and the two exchanged gunfire. Mitchell shot first but bled to death after Pearson’s return fire struck him in the shoulder.
Shortly after the shooting, Pearson drove to his house and called 911 and stayed on the line for about 30 minutes, the approximate time it took Mitchell to bleed out. During that call Pearson told the 911 operator that he had a .45 caliber pistol, but he neglected to tell her he fired his gun in self-defense, even after she inquired about how many shots were fired. “He fired one at us,” was all Pearson said.
At nearly the same time that 911 operators received Pearson’s call, Michael Gardea was also on the line with 911. Gardea called 911 after a frantic Benjamin Mitchell—covered in blood—banged on his door asking for help. After a series of questions lasting nearly six minutes and resembling Abbott and Costello's “Who's on first?” skit sans humor, the operator finally patched the call through to Albuquerque Fire Department. Ten minutes into that call, AFD personnel explained to Gardea how to stop the bleeding.
AFD Deputy Chief Tige Watson said the department followed proper procedure once they were dispatched. “AFD units were dispatched, and our dispatchers followed MPDS (Medical Priority Dispatch System) protocol by giving pre-arrival instructions for the care and treatment of the patient,” he said.
One of the foremost tenets of MPDS is a concept called the “zero-minute” response time for dispatching life support. “Zero-minute” response time training involves instructions that enable operators to take control of 911 calls and provide life-saving instructions as quickly as possible.
After Gardea received instruction from AFD, he spent 20 more minutes pleading with the operator—to no avail—to send help for the man dying in his backyard. Gardea attempted to attract the attention of the APD helicopter circling above by flipping his rear porch light on and off repeatedly to signal distress.
When contacted for this article, Gardea said he didn’t feel like talking about that night in detail, but he did note that he was unhappy with APD’s response time. “If it was a domestic [violence call], they would have had the case wrapped up in 20 minutes,” he said.
APD spokesman Robert Gibbs said APD doesn’t follow MPDS protocol. He said APD secured the scene as quickly as possible. “APD responded immediately and rendered the area safe as soon as practical, so emergency medical personnel could enter the scene,” said Gibbs.
At one point—24 minutes into the call—Gardea left his house and ran down to the police perimeter looking for help. Instead of preventing Gardea from returning to his house—an area determined to be unsafe—the officer sent him home to await police arrival. The police would arrive six minutes later, but by that time, it was too late to save Mitchell's life.
One of the first calls that evening came from the Duran residence, the family who first alerted both police and Pearson about “the man in front of our house with a gun.” The Alibi previously reported the initial caller was Ventana Ranch resident Jose Beltran, but the first caller was actually identified as Donna Duran, and she gave the 911 operator a step-by-step account of Mitchell’s actions leading up to the shooting. She told the operator she heard Mitchell talking to and cussing at an unseen person.
Isaac Macias, an Afghanistan War veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) said the voice Duran heard probably belonged to him. Macias said he was hanging out at the Mitchell residence shortly before the shooting, but he stepped outside to call his brother, and the two started arguing. Macias said he believes Mitchell—who was aware of his PTSD—could tell he was having an episode and went outside to help him, but by that time Macias had already taken off.
“I don’t know what set me off, but something [was] off; I was yelling at my brother and saying stuff. Then the next thing I know, I was jumping over walls and I ended up in this dude's backyard, and I knocked on his door and the cops came and got me,” Macias said.
So far, no one knows why Mitchell shot at Pearson. As far as the gun goes, Jonathan’s father, Isaac Mitchell, said Jonathan always carried an unconcealed gun on his hip.
Once the investigation is complete, the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office for a final determination of what—if any—charges to file.