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Two KC police officers settle case involving radio failures

The Kansas City Star, Tuesday, May 2, 2000, By Christine Vendel

Two KC police officers settle case involving radio failures

Two Kansas City police officers settled a lawsuit that alleged their radios failed to work while chasing a suspect who shot them.

Officers Derek McCollum and Robert Blehm sued Ericsson Inc., the radio maker, and SFA Inc., a consultant on the radio project.

The officers’ attorney, Brian F. McCallister, said he filed a plea for dismissal with the court after parties reached an agreement Friday. He said the agreement’s terms were confidential.

“All I can say is the lawsuit has been resolved to the parties’ mutual satisfaction,” he said.

An Ericsson spokeswoman, Kathy Egan, said the agreement did not mean the company admitted fault.

“There are all different kinds of settlements, and things are resolved in different ways,” she said. “I can’t really get into (specifics.)”

The attorney for SFA, Scott Shachtman, said the case had been settled but declined further comment.

David Humphrey was convicted of shooting the officers and sentenced to 40 years in prison. His attorney, Ron Partee, said Humphrey was named in the lawsuit but was not required to pay any money, because he had no money.

Both officers were shot at about 4 a.m. Sept. 18, 1996, near 55th Street and Indiana Avenue.

McCallister said the police radios were all the officers had to rely on as they chased Humphrey on foot. He said Blehm saw Humphrey move in a way that indicated he night have had a gun.

“Officer Blehm wanted to radio the dispatcher and say, ‘10-31,’ the code for armed and dangerous,” McCallister said.

Then the dispatcher immediately would have sent two backup cars, he added.

Blehm could not get through to the dispatcher. All he got was a beeping noise from his radio, indicating it was not working, McCallister said.

“His lifeline was down, and they were alone in the street,” McCallister said.

McCallister said Humphrey shot McCollum once and then shot five times at Blehm. Humphrey also put a gun to McCollum’s head and said, “You’re dead, cop. I’m going to kill you,” McCallister said.

He then pulled the trigger. But the gun did not fire. The hammer fell on spent cartridges, McCallister said. Blehm shot Humphrey, and Humphrey ran away.

McCollum, wounded, had to run in circles to find spots where his radio signal would work, McCallister said.

Both officers have returned to duty.

Over the years, problems with the radios have raised concerns among police and firefighters. The city has taken steps to upgrade the radio system.