Kyle Plush case: Body cameras show cops stayed in car during search for teen dying in van

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 3:29 PM

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Body camera footage from two Cincinnati police officers’ search for a 16-year-old teen who was crushed to death by a seat in his minivan earlier this month shows the officers never left their patrol car while they looked for the teen.

The footage shows the officers driving past the parking lot where Kyle Plush was dying on their way to search a separate lot on the campus of Seven Hills School, where the teen was a sophomore. 

They do not appear to search all of the parking lots on the campus, and the videos indicate that the officers may have searched the area for less than a third of the time that officials previously said they did. 

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Cincinnati police officials, along with Hamilton County prosecutors and the county Sheriff’s Office, are conducting internal investigations to determine what led to Plush’s death, both inside the van and out. That includes a probe of law enforcement officers’ actions and what took place at the city’s 911 center. 

“The event leading up to Kyle’s death are devastating and also raise concerning questions about our city’s emergency 911 system and police response,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said April 12. “While it is unclear if there is wrongdoing by the city in this tragedy, we have a profound responsibility to find out.”

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Plush called 911 twice on the afternoon of April 10, screaming and pleading for help as he slowly suffocated inside his gold Honda Odyssey in a parking lot at his school. The teen, a sophomore at Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, was apparently reaching for his tennis gear in the rear hatch of the van when the third-row bench seat tipped backward and pinned him, upside down, in the hatch area with the seat digging into his chest.

Plush, who died of positional asphyxia, used his iPhone’s voice commands to call 911. The teen could be heard struggling to breathe as he told a dispatcher that he was trapped in his van.  

“I can’t hear you,” Plush told the dispatcher in his first call, according to The Washington Post. “I’m in desperate need of help. I’m gonna die here.”

Two city police officers were dispatched at 3:21 p.m. to the school to search for the caller in distress, Cincinnati police officials said. They arrived about five minutes later. 

Body camera footage obtained by WCPO in Cincinnati shows the responding officers, Brian Brazile and Edsel Osborn, driving on the school campus but staying in their patrol car. The videos also show that the officers searched for Plush for about three minutes before turning off their cameras, an indication that they had completed the call. 

Information previously released by the Cincinnati Police Department indicated that the officers were on the scene for 11 minutes but could not find the van Plush was calling from. 

The footage, which was released by police officials Friday following a public records request, shows Brazile drive past the Seven Hills School Resale Shop, a thrift store run by the school to help fund various projects on campus, before turning into a parking lot south of the store.  

Plush’s van -- which was found by his father six hours later -- was in a student parking lot located north of the shop. The officers drive by that parking lot, but do not turn in.

The body camera footage shows the officers driving slowly through the south parking lot, searching for the 911 caller.

“Shoot, these kids drive better cars than you do,” Brazile appears to tell Osborn. 

“Uh-huh,” Osborn mutters. 

Brazile makes a U-turn in the lot and they search it again before ducking through afterschool traffic and into another lot across the street, near the school’s tennis courts and baseball field. The second lot they turn into is further south -- and further away from where Plush was still alive, but struggling for breath. 

“I don’t see nobody, which I didn’t imagine I would,” one of the officers can be heard saying as they search. 

“I’m going to shut this off,” Osborn says just before his body camera recording ends. 

The star on this map released by the Cincinnati Police Department shows the location where Jacob Plush, 16, was parked Tuesday, April 10, 2018, when he was crushed to death by a seat in his family's minivan. Plush, a sophomore at Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, was parked in the school's sophomore parking lot, where his father found his body about six hours after the teen made two 911 calls begging for help. Body camera footage released April 20, 2018, by police officials indicates that city officers who responded to the calls searched the parking lot at the bottom left of the map, but did not search the lot where Plush died. 
(Cincinnati Police Department)

Cincinnati police spokeswoman Tiffany Hardy told WCPO that the footage was the entire recording of the officers’ response to Seven Hills. Departmental policy dictates that officers activate their body cameras when arriving on the scene of a call.

They can deactivate the cameras only after clearing the call, according to the policy

Previous information made public by Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Issac indicated that it was another eight minutes before the officers marked their assignment as cleared. 

Dashboard camera footage from the officers’ patrol car was not released with the body camera footage, WCPO reported. Hardy told the news station that Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters’ office has that footage. 

Deters announced shortly after Plush’s death that his office had launched a comprehensive investigation into the tragedy. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil also ordered an investigation into his department’s handling of the calls. 

A deputy working a traffic detail at the school also searched for Plush that afternoon but did not find him. Dispatcher Amber Smith -- who was placed on administrative leave for about a week after Plush’s death -- and the deputy could be heard in dispatch audio debating whether the calls had been a prank. 

Even after Plush’s father found him dead, city police officers thought the calls from the school were a prank, WCPO reported. When a call went out for officers to respond to the school, either Brazile or Osborn responded on the radio, not knowing that the teen was dead.

“I think somebody’s playing pranks,” the officer said, according to radio traffic. “It was something about they were locked in a vehicle across from the school. We never found anything. But we’ll respond and see what else we can find.”

A police photo shows the minivan that Jacob Plush, 16, of Cincinnati, died in parked in a student parking lot at Seven Hills School Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Plush, a sophomore at the school, was crushed to death by a seat in the van. His father found his body about six hours after the teen made two 911 calls begging for help.(Cincinnati Police Department)

The multiple investigations into the incident seek to determine what kept responding officers from locating Plush in time to save him. In his second 911 call, the teen told Smith exactly where he was located at the school and gave Smith a description of his van.

“I probably don’t have much time left, so tell my mom that I love her if I die,” the teen said, according to the audio. “This is not a joke. This is not a joke. I’m trapped inside my gold Honda Odyssey van in the sophomore parking lot of Seven Hills (unintelligible). 

“Send officers immediately. I’m almost dead.”

Smith was placed on administrative leave two days after Plush’s death because she did not relay to the officers the make, model and color of the van. WCPO reported that internal documents from the probe showed that Smith’s supervisors found her work “unacceptable” in the incident. 

Smith told investigators that, although the recording of Plush’s second 911 call picked up what he said, she could not hear him when he gave the description of his van and his location. Issac previously said that Smith did press a tone indicating she was having trouble on the line. 

Smith also told investigators that her computer screen froze, keeping her from properly documenting the call, the news station said. One of the documents indicated that 911 operators’ computers were experiencing problems around the time of Plush’s call. 

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An emergency dispatch consultant told WCPO that problems with the computers was not a surprise. 

“Having a computer system within the 911 center freezing up or locking out is not uncommon,” consultant Dave Warner said

Cranley said in his statement that problems have plagued the 911 center for a long time. 

“Separate from his incident, the problems of management, supervision and technology have been reported at the 911 center for years,” the mayor said

He said that he has repeatedly requested solutions and lobbied the Federal Communications Commission on the technology issues but was told the problems were being resolved. 

“This tragedy may ultimately suggest the problems have not been resolved or that not enough changes have been made,” Cranley said. 

Cranley said officials must also determine if “preventable flaws or failures” have worsened emergency situations. 

The internal records show that Smith tried calling Plush twice and sent him a text message seeking the address of his emergency, WCPO reported. He never responded, but his use of voice commands showed that he likely could not reach his phone. 

The dispatcher who took Plush’s first call also used the GPS coordinates of his phone to send Brazile and Osborn to the parking lot near the thrift store, the news station said. Reporters who plugged the coordinates into a Google map found that they were just feet from the spot where Plush’s father found him that night. 

The officers still did not find him. 

Neither Brazile nor Osborn have been placed on leave during the investigation.   

Smith returned to work last week. Any disciplinary action taken against her has not been made public, WCPO reported.

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