A series of miscommunications among dispatchers on a 911 call may have caused New Jersey state troopers to erroneously respond to a rural South Jersey home, where one shot a 76-year-old man who feared the troopers were intruders.
Gerald Sykes, who walked into his living room with a shotgun, had not called 911.
Someone else had.
According to a recording provided Thursday by Cumberland County officials, who described it as "with respect to the Sykes incident," the 911 call was made elsewhere in the county that night, by a man who wanted police to remove a cousin from his home to prevent a fight.
Cumberland County's emergency dispatch center, which answered the call, transferred it to the state police.
But another agency also was inadvertently sent details on the call: Vineland, a city within the county that has its own dispatch center.
A dispatcher there, for reasons unknown, believed the call had disconnected, and looked at the location information. It came up as Sykes' home - which happens to be next to a cellphone tower.
So two troopers responded there.
From inside, Sykes' wife, Margot, 80, saw shadowy figures on the back deck and got out of bed. She then awakened her husband, who walked to the living room and also saw the figures. Fearing they were intruders, Gerald Sykes grabbed a shotgun from the bedroom closet.
It was after 11:30 p.m.
When he walked into the living room with the shotgun, he was hit by three bullets through the glass, according to Sykes' attorney, Rich Kaser. Two bullets struck Sykes in the chest and one in the upper groin.
Sykes, falling backward, fired a shell before retreating to the bedroom bloodied and in a panic, Kaser said. He then spoke to 911 dispatchers, telling them he had been shot by "prowlers," who he later learned were state police.
Only one of the troopers opened fire.
The state Attorney General's Office, which is investigating the July 29 incident, has not disclosed exactly what caused the mix-up over the original 911 call and declined to comment Thursday.
But the records provided by Cumberland County, as part of a public records request, and the cellphone tower next to Sykes' home in Upper Deerfield Township offer some clues.
Theodore E. Baker, counsel for Cumberland County, said Thursday that on the night of the incident, the county's dispatch center "inadvertently" sent details on a 911 call to Vineland's dispatch center.
"Our 911 center was unaware that it had been received by Vineland," Baker said. What Vineland did with the details was unknown, he said, "although we believe that a telephone call was made to the Bridgeton state police barracks advising them that this was a 'dropped 911 call.' "
Where the original 911 call came from within Cumberland County is unclear. The caller said that his home was in Fairfield Township - several miles from Sykes' home - but that he was calling from outside the township.
Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said Thursday his dispatcher had been interviewed by the Attorney General's Office, but declined to detail the dispatcher's actions because the investigation was continuing.
"I'm confident that our telecommunicator followed the policies and protocols for a circumstance like this," he said.
The Attorney General's Office said the troopers knocked on the home's front door and heard no response, then approached a sliding-glass door in the back and knocked there, shining flashlights into the house and announcing they were responding to a 911 call.
Sykes' family says neither he nor his wife heard knocks.
The couple returned to their home last week, following Sykes' treatment at Cooper University Hospital and a brief stay at his stepdaughter's home.