When a stranger broke into their home and attacked them, Bre Lasley and her sister fought back. They punched him. They kicked him. They pulled him to the ground.
But he was stronger — and he had a knife.
During the intense fighting, which included the man stabbing Lasley, the women managed to call 911 for help four times.
And as Lasley’s strength began to fail, it was the thought that police were on the way that kept her going.
“I told myself over and over again in my head, somebody is going to come,” she said. “Just keep fighting.”
But what Lasley didn’t know then was that no one was coming. Despite the 911 calls, dispatchers had not sent an officer to their home.
It was purely by chance that a Salt Lake City police officer had been in their neighborhood, and had heard her sister, Kayli Lasley, running down the street, screaming for help. That officer confronted Lasley’s attacker and ultimately killed him.
She was so grateful to the officer who saved her life. But after she found out that it was a coincidence he was even there, Lasley was stunned and devastated.
She’s now suing Priority Dispatch, the company that provided software and training to Salt Lake City’s dispatchers. Her attorneys allege in court papers that Priority Dispatch’s “rigid” protocols required Lasley and her sister to answer a series of scripted prompts about the situation and their attacker before help would be sent.
But as they fended off the man, the sisters couldn’t do more than scream their address and pleas for help.
“It’s a system set up for failure,” she said. “It’s not a system set up to help in that situation. You don’t have time to answer questions. Literally every second matters.”
A brutal attack
Lasley’s attacker, 48-year-old Robert Berger, had disappeared from a halfway house, and a warrant had been issued for his arrest just a day before he climbed into her window on Sept. 23, 2015.
She had been sitting on her bed, listening to music, when Lasley heard a voice outside her window. She dismissed it and left her bedroom to go to the bathroom. When she returned, she heard the voice again, more clearly this time.
“Hey, girl,” the stranger said. “I’m coming in.”
Lasley leapt from her bed and tried to push the shadowy man out of the window, but Berger crawled in. She offered him her phone and her laptop, hoping he only broke in to rob them.
“When he didn’t take it,” Lasley said, “I knew I was in for a long night.”
After hearing the commotion, Lasley’s sister ran into the room and saw a large muscular man who was over 6 feet tall towering over her sister. She started hitting Berger, trying to force him out. He started throwing punches. The fight moved out of Lasley’s bedroom into the kitchen. Berger kicked Lasley’s sister down the stairs into the basement, then tumbled with Lasley down the stairwell himself.
That’s when Lasley made her first attempt to call 911, first asking her iPhone to make the call for her. But Siri didn’t understand the request. With Berger on top of her, she managed to dial the numbers on her keypad.
Lasley couldn’t hold the phone to her ear, but began yelling once she knew the call had connected.
“850 South Roberta Street!” she screamed. “850 South Roberta Street! Help us! Help us, please!”
Lasley’s sister managed to connect with dispatchers three more times by phone, and similarly yelled her address and pleas for help.
Their fight continued for nearly eight minutes. After Berger began strangling her sister, Lasley tackled him into their laundry room. As they wrestled, her sister started hitting Berger with a metal object she found in the room.
That’s when Berger took out a knife.
Lasley urged her sister to run outside and get help. She worried if someone didn’t come soon, they would both die.
“He’s stabbing me,” she yelled as her sister ran. “He’s stabbing me.”
Berger plunged the knife into her stomach, near her ribs, into her legs.
She remembers struggling to pull Berger’s large arms away from her neck as he held the knife near her throat.
“That’s when I heard, ‘Salt Lake City police, drop the knife!’” Lasley recalled. “I still thought I was going to die. I had already been stabbed. I was starting to black out. I was so tired.”
Lasley’s sister had run outside and flagged down Officer Ben Hone, who happened to be in the area.
Hone rushed into the house and yelled at Berger three times to drop the knife. Lasley’s cheek was pressed against Berger’s when Hone fired his gun. The bullet hit Berger in the head, killing him.
‘We should have had help’
Lasley had assumed Hone had been dispatched to her home, that their calls to 911 had been answered. But another detective had mentioned in passing that Hone hadn’t been sent there — a discovery that traumatized Lasley.
“I think about all the seconds and all the minutes that we were fighting that we could have had help. That we should have had help,” she said. “But we didn’t.”
And Lasley was already struggling after the attack. Her stab wounds were healing, but she was emotionally traumatized. She slept during the day on her parents’ couch, and had her brother or her father stay awake with her at night. It was a long time before she could sleep in a bedroom.
But she was especially shaken by the notion that the dispatch system failed her.
Lasley’s lawyer, Michael Young, wrote in court papers that police were not sent to the sister’s home because the women could not answer “predetermined and scripted questions.”
“Bre and her sister did what everyone in their situation would hope to do — successfully call 911,” Young wrote. “Bre and her sister trusted in [Priority Dispatch’s] software system to help them. Instead, their calls for help did not generate a response.”
Jeff Clawson, who created Priority Dispatch, said Thursday that he listened to the calls and doesn’t believe the dispatcher would have been able to understand that they were screaming an address. The protocols questioned in the lawsuit were never used, he said, because the dispatcher couldn’t have known what was happening.
"The whole idea that we didn't do anything is just baffling," he said.
But he defended Priority Dispatch’s protocols, saying the scripted questions guide dispatchers and helps them get the best information while limiting human error. Clawson said dispatchers are taught to ask people to verify their addresses, but if they can’t respond, it doesn’t mean help won’t be sent.
Salt Lake City police officials said Wednesday that they only use Priority Dispatch for the Fire Department but declined to answer other questions about whether the protocols have changed in recent years.
Lisa Burnette, the director of SLC911, said in a Thursday statement that police had been dispatched to a call from Lasley’s neighbor, who reported their home had just been burglarized. Police were on their way, Burnette said, when dispatchers received the calls from Lasley.
She said police arrived at Lasley’s home “within minutes," and said Hone was among the officers who had been sent to that area to investigate the earlier burglary.
“We strive to provide excellent service to members of the public and we recognize there is always room for improvement,” Burnette said. “However, in this circumstance, we feel the system worked as intended.”
Concerns about the city dispatchers’ protocols had been raised at least a year before Lasley was attacked. Top police leaders had expressed a desire to tweak the rigid questioning in June 2014 as departments began to merge their dispatch centers.
Lasley is suing Salt Lake City-based Priority Dispatch for negligence, arguing it failed in its duty to provide effective software to emergency dispatchers. Also named in the lawsuit is International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, a company owned by the same people who operate Priority Dispatch. This second company holds itself out as a “standard-setting organization” that approves dispatch center protocols.
Lasley said she hopes her lawsuit will bring about change, that dispatch centers will overhaul their protocols and train their workers differently. She’s also seeking an unspecified monetary amount.
It wasn’t an easy decision to bring a lawsuit, she said. But she thinks about other women who could find themselves in a similar terrifying situation. She thinks about her nephews. About a little girl who needs help, who calls 911 expecting someone to come save her.