CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - When police arrive at someone's door, they have to make a decision. A decision that could mean life or death.
Heather Campbell was lying on her apartment floor, bleeding from gunshot wounds. Police were at her door, but they never went inside.
We may never know if Heather would have survived had officers entered the 22-year-old's apartment, and that's something that will haunt Heather's father, Joe Bronczyk, for the rest of his life.
Joe Bronczyk with his daughter Heather (Source: Family)
"I do think miracles happen. Somebody could have gotten in there and stopped the bleeding. Maybe it's possible she could have lived," said Bronczyk. "That haunts me, cause they never went in. I'll never know if they did their job, if she'd still be here today."
Cleveland 19's Investigative Unit spent several months examining the circumstances surrounding Heather's murder and other cases where someone needed emergency medical assistance and officers were called to their home but then left because nobody answered the door.
The biggest question we have is why didn't police go inside?
Heather Campbell (Source: Family)
"She was so fun and full of life. So cool, and so responsible. She just had it all," Bronczyk recalls of his daughter Heather.
The Strongsville High School graduate aspired to become the first college graduate in her family. She enrolled at Ohio State and later enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where she served as a Nuclear Machinist Mate.
Heather Campbell (Source: Family)
"She had a bright future. She would have been doing great things," said Bronczyk.
After receiving an honorable discharge in May 2017, Heather returned to Ohio State to continue her studies as a child psychology major.
But she didn't return to Columbus alone.
Heather & her boyfriend Kyle Lafferty (Source: Family)
Heather Campbell met Kyle Lafferty, a New Jersey native and Lieutenant JG in the United States Naval Reserve, when she enlisted in the Navy in 2016.
After Heather was honorably discharged from the service, the couple moved to Columbus where they rented an apartment together at Taylor House, a luxury complex a few minutes north of the OSU campus.
On the night of September 15, 2017, Heather and Kyle were out drinking at a bar when they got into a fight. Bronczyk says his daughter left the bar and went home alone.
"I think at that point, my daughter was just done with him," said Bronczyk. "She'd seen something in him and it was over."
Bronczyk says Kyle later returned to the apartment in an Uber.
Katrina Bache lived in the apartment directly above Heather and Kyle. She didn't know the couple personally.
Bache and her boyfriend, Jonathan Reed, both OSU students, were up late talking that night when they heard a commotion downstairs.
"I heard an extremely loud clatter. My bed shook right away and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up," recalls Bache.
"It didn't stop after that point. I started hearing Heather yelling. It sounded like furniture was being thrown around. It sounded like there was a tussle. I couldn't hear what was being said, but I quickly realized this was someone who was in danger. I've never felt fear like that before," said Bache. "The minute we started hearing a struggle, hearing furniture, yelling, I knew within seconds something was incredibly wrong."
Unsure of what to do, Bache called the apartment complex's after-hours number for guidance and says was told by the representative to call the police department's non-emergency line to report the domestic dispute. But by then the yelling hadn't stopped and Bache was still uneasy about the situation, so she and Reed headed downstairs to see if Heather needed help.
Just as Bache reached apartment 149, where Heather and Kyle lived, she heard three consecutive gun shots. "I smelled the gunpowder," she said.
"It's unmistakable when you hear a gunshot. It's absolute fear, terror," said Reed. "We knew we had to call the police after that."
"I heard three loud gunshots, right after another": Listen to Katrina Bache's 911 call
Fearful that whoever had just fired the gun would hear their motorized wheelchairs and come after them, Bache and Reed fled the apartment building and called 911 from the parking lot.
Officers with the Columbus Division of Police arrived at the Taylor House apartments at 2:40 a.m. on Sept. 16, within minutes of Bache's call for help. "The relief I felt seeing the police was so profound," said Bache. "I feel this relief and I think, 'Oh my god, we're gonna help this girl and we're gonna be safe, we're not gonna get shot.'"
Four police officers responded; two circled the building in their cruiser while the others approached Bache on foot. "It was very hunky dory right from the beginning," said Bache. There's no sense of urgency. There's no sense that something very serious has transpired." She told us she was trembling and could barely speak to the officers. "I was white as a ghost at that point," Bache said.
"We go in the building and the officers are making small talk," said Bache. The officers asked her to show them where Heather and Kyle lived, but she was too terrified to go near their apartment. Bache waited down the hall with Reed while the officers went to check out apartment 149.
She says the officers knocked and stood at Heather's door for about a minute, then walked away.
"They returned and say, 'Well, nobody answered the door.' That was their first response," recalls Bache. "I said, 'You have to do something! Someone's in danger!'" Bache says the police suggested the screaming and gunshots she and Reed heard had come from someone's TV. "The cops didn't even look us in the eye," said Reed.
Reed and Bache both have Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, and use wheelchairs. They believe the police officers didn't view them as credible witnesses because of their condition.
They also say the officers didn't believe them because they were the only ones who had called for help. Bache and Reed were told by the officers that the department would typically receive multiple calls for help if shots are fired.
Not long after the officers walked away from Heather's door, Bache says they received another call about a robbery. "Immediately, they perked up. I will never forget that," recalls Bache. "Here, they're all jovial almost on a call for gunshots and domestic dispute, and yet, they get a call for a robbery and suddenly they're cops again."
That's when the officers left the apartment complex.
Records from the Columbus Division of Police show the emergency call was cleared at 3:04 AM, thirty minutes after Bache called 911.
Heather's best friend Christine also lived at the Taylor House apartments and was growing concerned after not hearing from her friend.
Twenty-four hours after police officers knocked on Heather's door and left, Christine went to apartment 149 to check on Heather.
The door was unlocked.
"I just walked into my best friend's apartment and her and boyfriend are laying on the kitchen floor dead, bleeding," Christine sobbingly told a 911 dispatcher. "She hasn't answered my phone calls since yesterday, so I went in there, and their door was unlocked, and they're just right there on the floor."
Officers with the Columbus Division of Police were dispatched back to the Taylor House apartments.
This time, they went inside apartment 149 and discovered a gruesome scene.
Heather Campbell & Kyle Lafferty (Source: Facebook)
Heather and Kyle were pronounced dead in their apartment at 3:16 a.m. on Sept. 17.
Autopsy reports from the Franklin County Coroner's Office show Heather died of gunshot wounds to her head and left thigh. Manner of death: Homicide.
The coroner ruled that Kyle died of one self-inflicted gunshot wound of the head.
"The first shot she received in her upper thigh... it traveled upward, so he can only think she was on her back kicking at him," said Bronczyk. "When he fired that shot, it her her supply artery. There was a second shot that went through a cheek and and carotid artery. She probably went unconscious."
Bronczyk says he doesn't know if his daughter could have been saved, but Katrina Bache believes Heather definitely could have survived if officers would have entered her apartment.
"I know there was a window of time where something could have been done, especially right as it happened. They were quick enough. They could have made a difference," said Bache. "The cruelest irony of all is that their door was unlocked."
"My beef is with the Columbus Police Department. They responded to a highest priority call, shots fired. They should have entered that apartment," said Bronczyk.
In a written statement, the Columbus Division of Police said officers responded to Heather's apartment "on a report of gunshots, arguing and noises," but that the officers "did not have sufficient probable cause to force entry" at the time of the call. The statement continues, "Warrantless entry can be made when officers are taking enforcement action such as an arrest or to render first aid or check on a person's well-being."
Bache and Reed told police they had heard screaming and banging and gunshots, then silence. That Heather was inside that apartment and needed help.
"You have someone calling and saying there is extreme screaming and banging, and 'I heard three gunshots and it went silent,' and you tap on the door with a baton and leave?" said Bronczyk. "I mean, how lame is that? To me, that's inexcusable as a police officer."
"Under the 4th Amendment, your're protected, your house is protected against the government entering unless they get a warrant or unless you allow them in," said Witner-Rich. "But there are a couple of other ways the police can get in, and one is exigent circumstances. If they have a reason to believe that there's an imminent threat to the health or safety of somebody inside, then they're allowed to enter without getting a warrant."
"There's not really a bright line set of rules that the police can say, 'I can go in if this is happening. I can't go in if that is happening.' It's a general standard," said Witner-Rich. "When do police have reason to believe based on all the facts and circumstances, whatever they're aware of, that there's a reasonable chance that somebody's facing an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm? Ultimately, they have to make that judgment based on what they know."
Attorney Terry Gilbert wrote a letter to the Columbus Chief of Police, demanding an investigation into why police refused to enter the apartment.
"In that particular situation it's a no brainer. They should have gone in there and checked the place out. In fact, the door was open, so there really was no excuse for them not going in there," said Gilbert. "They had every right to go in that house to check and see if everybody was OK. They didn't do that."
But even Gilbert, who often files lawsuits against police, admits that it's not always that simple for police to make a judgment call before forcing entry into a home, including in non-violent situations.
In Euclid, police made around two thousand wellness checks last year. Making sure the ill, disable and elderly are OK. People like Charles Matlin.
Charles Matlin (Source: Albert Datillo)
For 15 years, Charles was a daily customer at the family-owned R Ribs BBQ Restaurant on Euclid Avenue. Owner Albert Datillo says the 76-year-old would bring him a coffee and a newspaper every day.
"Nicest guy in the world. He was a fixture in this neighborhood. He worked across the street at the Lube Stop for over twenty years," Datillo recalled of his friend. "Any place around here that had karaoke, Chuck was there."
On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, Charles called Datillo to say that he wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be stopping by the restaurant. The next day, when Charles show up to the restaurant, Datillo called to check on his friend, who lived by himself in an apartment in Euclid. But the line was busy. Datillo didn't think much of it, because Charles' brother lived in Washington State, and sometimes the two would talk on the phone for a few hours.
On the morning of Friday, July 21, the phone was still busy. This time Datillo called the Euclid Police Department and asked them to do a welfare check.
Officers went to Charles' first floor apartment but it didn't appear that there was anyone inside. Representatives for the complex wouldn't give the officers access to the apartment, so officers spoke with two of Charles' neighbors and even spoke to employees at a nearby Shell station, who knew him well from being a regular customer. Datillo had told police that Charles had some health issues, so officers checked to see if there had been any EMS squad runs to his apartment. They also check with two local hospitals. Charles wasn't at either one.
Still concerned about Charles, Datillo called Euclid Police again the following morning, insisting they return to his friend's apartment.
"So here it is the next day now. It'll be very sad if you open that door and he's dead, and he could have been saved," Datillo said to the dispatcher.
Officers went back out to the apartment and this time noticed the curtains on the sliding glass balcony door were moving and that something was pushing the curtains up against the sliding door.
In his investigative report, one of the police officers wrote, "I climbed onto the balcony and tapped the window. Someone on the other side of the curtain tapped back. Then I saw a hand come through the curtain. I then realized that it was the male's body pushing the curtain up against the glass. I yelled to the male and asked him if he needed help. He responded with 'Yes!'"
According to the police incident report, officers immediately requested a rescue squad and contacted building maintenance. A maintenance employee arrived within two minutes, but didn't have a key to the apartment, so he went to the office to get a key. The officers said it was taking the maintenance employee too long to return so they made the decision to force entry into the apartment, using a battering ram to break down the door.
Charles was on the floor next to his recliner and couldn't get up. He was naked and confused, unsure about how long he had been on the ground. Charles spent the next month in the hospital. He later died in his apartment.
"I don't know if that was contributing to the fact that he didn't get medical attention right away," said Datillo
While Datillo says police have to make tough decisions, he thinks the officers waited too long to break down Charles' door.
"How do you weigh a human life over a door?" Datillo said.
Did officers make the right call by delaying entry into Charles Matlin's apartment?
We posed the question to Cleveland State law professor Jonathan Witner-Rich.
"Maybe they should have gone in," said said Witner-Rich. "In that circumstance, they can error a little more on the side of, 'We have a regular pattern here reported from a neighbor, we're not getting a response, we have some reason to think this person may be in danger.'"
The Euclid Police Department declined our request for an on-camera interview, instead providing a written statement that reads, in part:
Full statement from the Euclid Police Department
During welfare checks, officers typically looks for signs that something is off; mail and newspapers piling up, TV or lights turned on but nobody answering the door. In this case, Euclid PD says those signs weren't there.
Professor Witner-Rich says something called a "Community Caretaker Doctrine" does give officers more leeway when it comes to doing welfare checks.
In a case where a crime is suspected, Witner-Rich says police have to be careful to protect a citizen's right to privacy under the 4th Amendment. However, he says police have the legal right to enter a home when they believe lives may be in danger, including Heather Campbell's case in Columbus, where domestic violence was suspected.
"Particularly in domestic violence cases, I think we've been learning over the last number of years that our traditional criminal justice system has not been handling those well, has not responded to domestic violence cases well. I think a lot has changed in the last number of years, that police departments take these cases more seriously, that prosecutors take these cases much more seriously. But in this case, it didn't go as we hoped it would go," said Witner-Rich.
While Witner-Rich says police judgment will always come into play, he says police departments should have general standards on when officers should enter, or not enter.
"I found out the Columbus Police Department doesn't have a specific policy and training on how to respond to situations like that. They basically leave it up to the officer's discretion," said Attorney Terry Gilbert.
Gilbert also believes there should be a standard when it comes to forced entry situations.
"I don't know if you could cover every specific situation, but there could be some guidelines that they can get from the International Association of Chiefs of Police or academies that teach police," said Gilbert. "They can find these standards of training because it's a common everyday aspect of police work and not something that's out in left field. These things happen, and they have to know how to approach them."
Heather's father doesn't believe the decision of whether or not to force entry should be left for police officers to make themselves.
"It's up to an officer's discretion. They should not have discretion," said Bronczyk. "That's so wrong. How do you give them discretion to walk away?"
Heather Campbell (Source: Family)
Bronczyk says he would like to see a law made in his daughter's name, taking the discretion away from officers and making it mandatory that they have to enter a home after receiving domestic violence calls.
"Heather's Law. Something that says if there's any 911 calls, a 911 call with domestic violence, shots fired, lethal weapon, a gun, a knife, and somebody says they heard three shots come out of that door, I'd like to see them have a policy requirement in place that says police officers have to clear that scene," said Bronczyk. "Something to say, 'There's shot fired, you enter that place. You have to clear it. You can't leave until that area is cleared. Just real simple.'"
"I'm sure if you go in the wrong place and said, 'We're sorry, somebody could have been murdered in there,' most people, we're gonna be OK with that," Bronczyk said.
Gilbert agrees. "They're not going in there looking for drugs. They're not there looking for contraband. They're going in there to try and protect life. I think all of us would want the police to do that," he said.
According to the Columbus Division of Police, two of the officers who responded to Katrina Bache's initial 911 call on the night that Heather Campbell was fatally shot by her boyfriend were investigated by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau. The Internal Affairs investigations has been forwarded to the officer's chain of command for recommendations and findings.
We asked Columbus Police if any policies or procedures have been updated or changed as a result of Heather Campbell's death. The department responded:
Both Bronczyk and Bache believe the police played a negligent role in Heather's death.
Bache launched "Justice for Heather Campbell", a GoFundMe page campaign to raise money for an independent investigation. Donations will also be used to "construct a proper memorial in her honor."
"We're fighting for her now," said Bache. "We're the ones that are going to continue to fight."