Upper Deerfield Township resident Gerald Sykes still walks around with the three bullets that struck him after he was shot by one of two state troopers apparently dispatched in error to his home, Sykes’ attorney said Friday.
Sykes needs additional surgery to remove the bullets, including one located near his spine, said the attorney, Richard Kaser.
That bullet, which is leaving a “bump in the skin” of Sykes’ body, could pose potential paralysis problems for Sykes if it moves too close to the spine, Kaser said.
“They think that won’t happen,” Kaser said of doctors treating Sykes, adding the prognosis is “an educated guess.”
The revelation about the condition of the 76-year-old Sykes is the latest development in a case Kaser said involves a series of mistakes and mishaps on behalf of emergency and law-enforcement agencies linked with the July 29 incident in the rural section of Cumberland County.
Cumberland County Counsel Ted Baker said Wednesday that a county 911 dispatcher forwarded an emergency cellphone call made from Fairfield Township to Vineland police instead of the State Police dispatch center in Buena Vista Township. The dispatcher immediately realized his mistake, ended the call to Vineland and forwarded the call, which was about a type of domestic situation, to the State Police dispatch center, he said. Fairfield Township is patrolled by State Police.
However, enough of the cellphone call apparently made it to Vineland police to indicate that it was placed from Sykes’ property in the 300 block of Centerton Road, Baker said. Sykes’ property contains a cellphone tower from which the cellphone call made from Fairfield Township was apparently redirected to the county’s 911 center, he said.
A Vineland dispatcher then calls the State Police barracks in Bridgeton, telling a sergeant about the cellphone call and giving the origin of the cellphone call as Sykes’ home, according to a recording of the conversation between the dispatcher and the sergeant.
Kaser charged on Friday that Vineland police could have easily verified the origin of the call from Fairfield Township, which was abruptly terminated by the county’s dispatch operation, by checking the call’s longitude and latitude location. Those coordinates accompanied the call’s transfer from the county 911 center, he said.
Copies of documents showing the longitude and latitude locations of the Fairfield Township call, and a call made later to county dispatch operations by Sykes, show different points of origin. The Press of Atlantic City obtained the documents from Cumberland County government through the state’s Open Public Records Act.
Kaser said a simple Internet check he ran of those coordinates showed the place of origin of the first call to be Piercetown Road in Fairfield Township, and the later call to be Sykes’ property.
Vineland Solicitor Richard Tonetta, police Chief Timothy Codispoti and Public Safety Director Edwin F. Alicea didn’t respond to requests by The Press for comment on Friday regarding Police Department policy on verifying the phone number, address and point of origin of calls received by the department.
Other recordings of emergency communications obtained by The Press reveal that the Vineland dispatcher who handled the transfer call from the county dispatch center called the number from which the call was placed. No one answered the phone call, so the dispatcher left a message asking if the caller still needed help and which agency to call for help. The Vineland dispatcher then called the State Police Barracks in Bridgeton.
The Attorney General’s Office isn’t the only entity investigating the Sykes shooting. Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella said the county is reviewing circumstances involving the misdirected transfer, along with other procedures at the county dispatch center.
Kaser said he continues to investigate what happened, including why the state trooper fired three shots into Sykes’ home, resulting in Sykes being shot twice in the chest and once in the lower waist.
Sykes is a hunter and was, as he entered his living room that night to check on what he thought were prowlers, carrying the shotgun sideways as if he was “walking through the woods,” Kaser said.
“Even if he’s walking out there with the gun pointed forward, the last thing the police should have done is fire,” Kaser said. “All they had to do is take one step to the side. If you’re really afraid, take a dive to the side.”