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Winnipeg police admit they failed to respond to a 911 call for help that warned of trouble outside a downtown nightclub -- 24 minutes before a deadly weekend shooting.
On Tuesday, Police Chief Devon Clunis laid out a timeline of events Tuesday that raises questions about whether the tragedy could have been prevented.
Clunis also announced an internal investigation is underway to determine what went wrong. Staff members from the Winnipeg police communications centre who were involved in the incident -- including the duty officer -- have been placed on administrative leave pending the review.
"I felt it was important to notify the public of this," Clunis said Tuesday. "I think if you call the 911 centre, as you've seen, we will respond. That's why I'm taking the step in ordering this investigation to find out what happened in this particular event."
Rustom Vito Paclipan, 23, died of injuries from the shooting, which happened early Sunday outside Opera Ultralounge at 441 Main St. Two other men were also hit by gunfire but survived. Police have made no arrests in the incident, which they believe was triggered by ongoing gang tensions.
Clunis revealed the following sequence Tuesday:
- 1:39 A.M.: Staff members at Opera call 911 after they discover a group of people fighting outside the nightclub. Staff ask for police to attend the scene, as there is worry the "situation could escalate."
- 1:42 A.M.: A call for service is generated and entered into the system but no units are dispatched.
- 1:59 A.M.: The call for service is abruptly cancelled from within the 911 communication centre, still without a police unit having attended the scene. It's not clear why this occurred.
- 2 a.m.: Opera closes its doors for the night.
- 2:03 A.M.: A second 911 call comes in from Opera, now reporting shots had been fired outside the club. Emergency personnel are immediately dispatched.
- 2:06 A.M.: Police arrive on scene. Paclipan was being treated by paramedics but could not be saved. The other two shooting victims had apparently left the scene, as had the suspects.
Clunis said Tuesday it's too early to say whether it was a civilian member of the communications centre or a senior officer who was involved in cancelling the first 911 call. Clunis didn't want to speculate whether the shooting would have been prevented had police responded to the request for help.
"I think it's best that we wait for the details to bear themselves out fully," he said. "I'm sure the investigation will give us the very firm facts we can stand on."
Staff at Opera said club owner Jack Moslehi made the initial 911 call out of concern trouble was brewing between two groups of men who were inside the club, and who then took the dispute outside.
"I definitely did not think that things would escalate to the degree that they did," Moslehi told CBC.
"The owner would like to not flood media out of respect for the family and friends of Rustom," Opera staff said in an email. The club declined further comment.
Police sources confirmed there would have been a full complement of evening- and night-shift cars on the street at the time of the initial call, although it's not clear how busy police were at the time and how many units might have been available to respond.
However, the evening shift officers were getting close to their 2:30 a.m. finish time and sources said there may have been a reluctance to send them to Opera for fear of incurring overtime -- especially if it was viewed initially as being a typical dispute outside a bar that often ends without any serious incident.
"These types of decisions are usually about money," a police source said Tuesday. Sources also said police may have cancelled the call when they did -- pretty much right at bar closing time -- figuring the situation had calmed down based on the fact no other emergency calls had come in.
Police were also hosting their annual marathon Sunday morning, which many off-duty officers attended, but sources said that wouldn't have affected the available manpower at the time of the incident.
Winnipeg's 911 centre previously came under fire when two sisters were killed after their repeated pleas for help were ignored. Doreen Leclair and Corrine McKeown were stabbed to death in February 2000 after calling 911 four times over several hours. A cruiser car was sent only after the final call, but it was too late.
McKeowen's boyfriend was ultimately convicted of the double murder. An inquest into the tragedy led to an extensive audit of the 911 centre and numerous changes, including how domestic-related calls are prioritized.