Family Can Sue Pa. 911 Dispatchers over Love-Triangle Slaying

February 8, 2008

The family of a man slain by a fired 911 dispatcher in Pa. can sue the killer’s co-workers, who allegedly looked up the victim’s records for their colleague shortly before the triple murder, a federal appeals court ruled.

The family of Mark Phillips, of Carnegie, can argue that Allegheny County employees endangered him through their actions, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court ruled Tuesday, reviving the suit.

Michael A. Michalski is serving life in prison for killing ex-girlfriend Gretchen Ferderbar, 18, her sister, Linda Ferderbar, 27, and the 24-year-old Phillips, her new boyfriend, on Oct. 29, 2003.

Michalski had just been fired from the county 911 center after looking up Phillips’ vehicle and license-plate records himself.

Soon afterward, a distraught Michalski called co-workers to say he “had nothing left to live for” and that Phillips and Gretchen Ferderbar were going to “pay for putting him in his present situation,” the court opinion said.

Despite that call, dispatchers Danielle Tush and Brian Craig _ who allegedly helped look up Phillips’ records for Michalski _ never alerted the pair or their local police departments, the suit charges.

“The complaint alleges that after Tush and Craig provided Michalski with confidential information, Michalski used that information to hunt down and kill Mark Phillips,” Circuit Judge Richard L. Nygaard wrote.

Michalski, then 21, found the victims at a home in Shaler Township. Prosecutors believe he planned to take Gretchen Ferderbar by force, but started shooting when the others intervened.

Lawyer Philip A. Ignelzi filed the wrongful death suit on behalf of Phillips’ mother, Jeanne, his executor. The appeals court also said she could revise her claims against 911 center supervisor Daniel Nussbaum, who had fired Michalski and found him “volatile” afterward.

“Despite recognizing that Michalski had used the 911 call center’s computer system to track Mark Phillips, Nussbaum made no effort to detain Michalski, to deter him from reaching Mark Phillips or to warn Mark Phillips of Michalski’s potentially violent behavior,” Nygaard said.

Nussbaum instead contacted police in McCandless Township, where Michalski lived, while also contacting or trying to contact Gretchen Ferderbar, the opinion stated.

A suit over Linda Ferderbar’s death was previously dismissed because it was filed days after the two-year limit. It was not immediately clear if that case was on appeal or if other suits were pending over the sisters’ deaths.

Lawyer Stephen J. Poljak, who represents the dispatch employees, did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

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