DALTON — At 6:16 p.m. one night last November, a caller urged Dalton police to hurry to an apartment on North Street. A couple was arguing. He believed a woman there was in jeopardy.
Two minutes later, the dispatcher radioed two cruisers to request a well-being check.
Forty-four minutes later, the young woman who lived in the apartment, Sherilyn Hayes, 24, was found hanging in the bathroom, an apparent suicide.
Dalton police had still not arrived.
A family tragedy is now public business. Over the last two weeks, Dalton officials held more than six hours of hearings on whether the senior officer on duty that night, John M. Marley, should be fired for dereliction of duty.
That decision could come Thursday, when the town's Select Board convenes a special session. Members of the board took testimony April 9 and April 16, but haven't discussed the evidence against Marley.
"They'll look at the totality of the case," said Town Manager Kenneth Walto. He said it isn't known if a decision will come that night.
One question officials are examining is whether Marley attempted to impede the town's investigation into how the emergency call was handled.
The town hired APD Management Inc. to review the police response. Officials commissioned that investigation after getting a tip, weeks after the 911 call, that the police response might have been flawed.
The company's finding was unequivocal.
"He should have gone to the call," said Alfred P. Donovan, a retired Tewksbury police chief who is president of the company. "A reasonable police officer should have responded, period. There were some very poor decisions here. Not going was not an option."
Marley, who lives in Pittsfield, is on administrative leave. He could not be reached for comment; both listed landline telephone numbers for him were out of service Friday.
Jeffrey E. Coe, the police chief in charge at the time of Hayes' death Nov. 23, is also on leave. Town officials have declined to say why.
The acting chief, Sgt. Christopher Furlong, has presented arguments at the hearings defending Marley's handling of the call. The officer had no grounds to enter the apartment, Furlong has told officials, and doing so could have violated the resident's constitutional protections against unreasonable search.
For family, the wait for answers continues.
Patricia Hayes of Pittsfield said she and her relatives are still coming to terms with her daughter's passing. She said she's been unable to obtain information about the circumstances of Sherilyn's death.
Sherilyn Hayes was a graduate of Taconic High School and the Mildred Elley vocational school. She worked as an insurance liaison for a Pittsfield medical office.
"It's been really, really difficult because I'm not knowing for sure if it was a suicide or not," Patricia Hayes said Friday. "I've just been beside myself not knowing whether the officers will be held responsible."
Instead of going immediately to Hayes' apartment, as the internal investigation deemed proper, Marley told the other officer on duty that night to park and wait. He said he would get back to him "in a minute of two," Donovan said.
The dispatcher, Frank M. Speth III, instructed the officers to call the department for additional information. According to Donovan's investigation, that included the fact that the man who lived with Hayes, Kyle Nutting, worked as a police officer in the town of Peru. Speth had not wanted to provide that information on an open radio channel in connection with a call involving a domestic dispute, the hearing was told.
The caller had also told the dispatcher he believed Hayes planned to hurt herself.
In his defense, Marley contends the dispatcher was confused and that the details in the caller's report didn't constitute a case of possible domestic violence.
Donovan says he listened to both the initial call and to later radio communications. "The dispatcher didn't seem to be confused," he said.
As the other Dalton officer continued to stand by, away from the North Street address, Marley used his department-issued cellphone to try to reach Nutting, Hayes' partner and a subject of the initial 911 call.
Marley called Peru's police chief, Jeffery Henault, in an attempt to find Nutting, according to Donovan, who interviewed both Henault and Nutting.
As it turned out, Nutting was eating dinner with Henault that Saturday night, having apparently left his Dalton apartment in the past hour.
Nutting told Marley in that phone conversation that Hayes had spoken of harming herself.
Robert W. Bishop Jr., the board's chairman, asked Marley during one of the hearings why the officer did not at least call Hayes' apartment, to check on her condition.
"I never established that the well-being check needed to be conducted," Marley told the board.
Though Marley concedes that both Nutting and Hamilton told him they believed Hayes "wanted to die," he disputes that such a statement translates into a threat of suicide if it falls short of stating a means or "clear intention."
In his initial written police report, Marley did not say he had spoken to Nutting. But Donovan said Marley admitted under questioning to making that contact. The two officers did not know one another before that night, the investigator concluded.
Marley attempted twice, unsuccessfully, to reach Tyler Hamilton, the neighbor who requested the well-being check. Donovan said Marley was seeking to confirm with Hamilton that he was seeking that kind of police response.
Donovan told the hearing that such a step wasn't needed, since Hamilton was on record requesting it. "He should not be debating whether to go," Donovan said of Marley. "At that point he should have initiated an immediate response."
In the absence of a police response, neighbors returned to the apartment. At one point, Donovan said, Nutting called his neighbor, Hamilton, to ask that someone check on Hayes.
They could not get anyone inside to come to the door, Donovan's investigation found. "That should have been a grave concern to anybody who responded to that house," Donovan said.
At 6:40 p.m., the Dalton dispatch center received another call from Hamilton, 24 minutes after his first one. The North Street address is less than a mile from the police station.
Hamilton told officials that since Hayes did not have a car, he believed she must still be in the apartment. While expressing worry about her welfare, Donovan said Hamilton also voiced concern that that a police response to a domestic incident could imperil the career of the officer, whom he identified as a friend.
After speaking to Nutting, Marley told the junior officer on duty that it appeared they would be visiting the apartment after all.
But that still didn't happen.
Instead, Nutting himself returned to the apartment. He was reportedly with others when they entered, around 7 p.m., and found Hayes' body.
"To me that's problematic also," Donovan said. "Nutting was the person involved in an altercation." He said police procedure calls for officers to separate parties in a dispute and speak to them individually.
That wasn't the only reason to treat Nutting differently, the investigator said.
"With another police officer involved, they're supposed to respond immediately," Donovan said.
Marc Strout, one of the five members of the Select Board, has recused himself from hearing the case. He works in law enforcement and his wife is an officer in the Dalton department.
Any motion to terminate Marley will need at least three of four votes to pass. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. on the Zoom platform and be broadcast live on Dalton Community Television.
Donovan's report found that Marley violated eight different police policies or codes, including conduct unbecoming an officer, neglect of duty and incompetence.
Furlong, the acting chief, has provided a counter-argument to the board in Marley's defense.
He notes that Marley tried twice to call Hamilton and that he successfully reached not only the Peru chief but his patrol officer, Nutting.
Furlong also says that despite Hayes saying she wanted to die, Nutting didn't believe she needed immediate assistance — and told Marley that. If harm had been imminent, Furlong told the board, wouldn't Nutting himself have sought it for her?
To Furlong's point that entering the apartment could have constituted an illegal search, Donovan pushed back during the hearing.
"She might have answered the door, if she saw it was the police," Donovan said. "Unfortunately, things progressed rather quickly."
Patricia Hayes says she wants to know more about how police handled the call to her daughter's apartment.
She is puzzled that Sherilyn is said to have asked Nutting to take their new puppy, Martha, with him when he left the apartment, given her love for the dog.
"She was a joy," she said of her daughter. "Her light still shines even though she's no longer with us on Earth."
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.