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Detroit chief strives to improve communications unit

Chief Craig announced the demotion of the head of the department's communications unit as part of the changes in the department

By Eric D. Lawrence
Detroit Free Press

Mother's Day will never be the same for Tracey Hightower.

That was the day her daughter was fatally stabbed at an apartment in Detroit. The months since police officers arrived at her door with the tragic news have been hard, because of the killing of 32-year-old Stacey Hightower and because of the knowledge that it took a dispatcher 90 minutes to send officers to the scene.

Tracey Hightower, who recently moved from Detroit to Oak Park, said she is angry, but she would not say too much because she fears jeopardizing the case against 40-year-old Jason Peck, who is charged with first-degree murder in the case.

"It was horrific. ... It was like a punch in the gut for all of us," said Hightower of the crime that was so unexpected.

She said that almost four months after the killing, she still gets phone calls from people who knew Stacey Hightower, shocked upon hearing about what happened. She said her daughter lived a normal life. She was kind, had a beautiful smile, worked as a mail inserter and loved her black-and-white shih tzu named Pepper. Stacey Hightower called her mother every day, including the night of the killing.

"I can still hear her voice," Tracey Hightower said, choking back tears.

The officers' late arrival at the scene was one of two issues involving Detroit police dispatchers in recent months that prompted Chief James Craig to announce a shake-up in the department's communications unit on Wednesday.

Both dispatcher incidents involved more than hour-long delays in sending police to violent crime scenes. The other incident was the shooting of a 38-year-old woman in the 13800 block of Bringard on Aug. 30. Police submitted a warrant request for charges against the dispatcher in the May 12 stabbing, and the case is under review by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

Authorities said they are reviewing the case involving the dispatcher in the shooting of Jobrena Hood, and charges are possible. The woman's mother, Betty Hood, said her daughter called 911 multiple times to try to prevent an argument from escalating, but that police did not respond until after she was shot.

Authorities did not provide details of the May stabbing incident, which happened around 4 a.m., but Hightower said she was told by police that her daughter was followed home from a party to her apartment in the 23800 block of Frisbee and attacked. She said neighbors had called police numerous times for help during and after the attack. Stacey Hightower died of multiple stab wounds.

Peck, who has a trial date of Nov. 4, is a registered sex offender with his last address in Detroit, although online state records indicate he has failed to verify his address. He was convicted in 2005 in Wayne County Circuit Court of criminal sexual conduct involving someone 13-16 years of age.

On Wednesday, Craig announced the demotion of the head of the department's communications unit, Todd Bettison, to inspector.

Bettison, who is being replaced by department veteran Daniel Allen, was also in the news following an April 2007 crash in his department-issued Chevrolet Impala, which hit a telephone pole, according to Free Press reports at the time. Tests showed he had a 0.22% blood-alcohol level, nearly three times the level at which someone can be convicted of drunken driving in Michigan, the reports said. He pleaded no contest in January 2008 to a reduced charge of operating while impaired.

Former Cmdr. John Autrey was acquitted of charges of felony tampering and misconduct in office in connection with the Bettison crash case.

Copyright 2013 the Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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