Forty minutes before he and his girlfriend were shot to death last year, Derrick Thompson called 911 to report his landlord was making “death threats,” according to a transcript of the call released Tuesday by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Two Biddeford police officers who responded to Thompson’s call determined that the dispute was a civil matter, said Deputy Police Chief JoAnne Fisk.
When he called 911 on Dec. 29, Thompson asked an emergency dispatcher to send a cruiser immediately because James Pak was threatening him.
Thompson said, “He’s giving me death threats, pointing his fingers like it’s a gun going bang,” according to the transcript, which the state released in response to a ruling by Maine’s highest court in a lawsuit filed by the Portland Press Herald.
Pak, 75, is charged with killing Thompson, 19, and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, 18, and seriously wounding Thompson’s mother, Susan Johnson, 44, in the apartment that the mother and son rented from him.
Pak, who lived in the adjoining house, is being held in the York County Jail on two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.
The release of the 911 transcripts makes public, for the first time, the fact that Thompson used the words “death threats.”
Fisk said Tuesday that she did not know whether a dispatcher told the responding officers that Pak had made death threats against Thompson. The transcripts do not include most of the radio traffic between the dispatchers and responding officers.
“I’m assuming the dispatcher made the officer aware,” Fisk said. “When the officer went there for the first call, he was there for a long time.”
It’s also not clear whether the officers who responded to the initial 911 call knew that Pak had a gun.
An officer who responded to Thompson’s call decided that Pak’s behavior did not constitute criminal threatening because Thompson said he did not feel threatened and did not believe that Pak would follow through on his threats, according to court records.
“You can’t coerce the witness,” Fisk said Tuesday when asked why Pak was not charged. “Somebody has to feel threatened.”
Fisk said the conversation between the officer and Thompson was recorded on a cruiser camera, and the recording is now part of the attorney general’s investigative file.
Three minutes after the officers left, dispatchers received another 911 call, from Johnson.
“We’ve all been shot, please hurry,” Johnson said as she hid, bleeding, behind a Christmas tree with a bullet wound in her back. Authorities say Pak had returned and killed Thompson and Welch, and thought he had killed Johnson.
DETAILS OF POLICE RESPONSE CALL
After the shootings, police and prosecutors denied the Press Herald’s Freedom of Access request for transcripts of the 911 calls. The newspaper’s appeal ultimately reached the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled Nov. 14 that the transcripts are public records. The Attorney General’s Office released the transcripts five days later.
The court’s unanimous decision rejected the state’s longstanding practice of withholding 911 transcripts in homicide cases and overturned a ruling by a Superior Court judge in March that releasing the transcripts of three 911 calls in the incident could interfere with the state’s case against Pak.
The Press Herald sued for the transcripts of the 911 calls to find out exactly what Thompson told the dispatcher, and why police considered the situation a “civil issue” and left just minutes before it turned deadly.
The transcripts show that Thompson told police and 911 dispatchers that Pak made “death threats” against him and that he felt threatened enough to ask for an immediate police response.
“I have my landlord out here freaking out at me, giving me death threats,” Thompson said at the beginning of his 911 call at 6:07 p.m. on Dec. 29.
When asked why Pak was “freaking out,” Thompson said, “I don’t know. He does it all the time. … All I’m trying to do is shovel” snow off the driveway. Thompson told the dispatcher that he had videotaped his encounter with Pak.
Biddeford police Officer Edward Dexter responded to the call, and after 32 minutes told the dispatcher, “This was a civil issue and the caller did not feel threatened at any time,” according to a summary of radio communications provided by Biddeford police after the shootings.
However, a state police affidavit in support of Pak’s arrest said, “Thompson told Officer Dexter that Pak claimed he was going to shoot them and made a hand motion in front of them.”
LAWSUIT LIKELY OVER POLICE ACTIONS
The second 911 call, from Johnson, came at 6:51 p.m., saying that she had been shot. According to the transcript of that call, when she identified Pak as the neighbor who had shot them, a Biddeford police dispatcher said on the radio, “That male that Brian was supposed to call is the suspect.”
It is not clear who Brian is or whether police called Pak after Thompson’s initial 911 call.
The police response to the confrontation will likely be the subject of a lawsuit. Thompson’s parents have filed a notice of claim against the Biddeford Police Department.
“There certainly doesn’t look like there was much effort on the part of the officer to determine this was a potentially volatile situation or simply an idle threat,” said their attorney, Daniel Lilley of Portland.
“Given the fact the guy is making hand signals like a gun … they should have determined whether or not he had any firearms in the house. Would they have been able to take them, I’m not sure,” Lilley said. “It’s not clear they should have taken him into custody, but they should have done a little more inquiry into it. He had some real animosity for the people in the apartment.”
According to court documents, Pak waited for police to leave, got a gun, opened the door to the apartment and said he was going to shoot his tenants. He shot Johnson first, then Thompson, then Welch, court documents say.
The transcripts include Thompson’s original 911 call, which was picked up by a regional dispatch center and transferred to Biddeford police; Johnson’s call after the shootings; and a 911 call from Pak’s wife, who reported that he was walking around the house with a gun right after the shootings.
According to the transcript, Pak’s wife said he was drinking. He was heard swearing in the background, saying he had killed three people and threatening to kill himself.
The names of the callers, dispatchers and officers were redacted from the transcripts. Court documents have identified the three people who made the 911 calls.
WOUNDED WOMAN REPORTS ATTACK
The transcript of Johnson’s 911 call is chilling.
Johnson reported that Pak had come into the apartment and shot her and two other people, that her 6-year-old son was also in the apartment, and that she did not dare to move from her hiding place behind the Christmas tree.
Asked by the dispatcher to check on the others in the apartment, Johnson said, “I can’t move and I don’t dare to … please hurry.”
“Where is the person that shot you?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know. He left. Please hurry,” she replied.
“OK, who was it that shot you?” the dispatcher asked.
“It’s our neighbor. It’s our neighbor … Jim Pak.”
The transcript indicates that Johnson’s breathing was labored and she was crying. She knew that her son and Welch were shot and were lying in the living room.
The dispatcher asked her to call out to them, to find out if they would respond.
“Alivia? Derrick? They’re not!” she told the dispatcher, crying.
The dispatcher kept up a dialogue with Johnson, eliciting information on the layout of the apartment and where its entrances were. The dispatcher then told her that police and an ambulance were on their way.
Johnson begged them repeatedly – 21 times, according to the transcript – to hurry.
Meanwhile, officers were trying to find Pak, to determine whether he was still armed and to make sure he would not try to shoot the first responders.
One of the officers who went into the apartment told Johnson that another officer was coming to help her. “I just don’t want to leave my position and get shot,” the officer said.
Eventually, two officers got Johnson into an ambulance. It is not clear whether Pak had been taken into custody at that point.
In the transcript of his wife’s 911 call, Pak told his wife that he wouldn’t shoot police but he refused to put the gun down. He threatened to shoot himself, saying, “I’m dead anyway. I’m gonna die, I don’t care nothin’. I don’t care nothin’. ”
Pak then took the phone and told the dispatcher that his wife had tried to protect the people he shot, and he would not put the gun down for her. He also said Johnson and her family were problem tenants.
Pak was arrested three hours after the shootings.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: