Earlier this week a Sedalia man was arrested for filing a false police report, but law enforcement officials say Michael James, 25, has an extensive history of making repeated fake 911 calls.
“So far we’ve found 61 calls (James) made since November,” said Sedalia Police Department Cmdr. David Woolery. “Quite a few of them were hang-ups but they started escalating into gun calls.”
On Wednesday James entered a not guilty plea to the charge in Pettis County court; he has a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
According to Woolery, James would make numerous 911 calls claiming a weapon had been brandished or a robbery was being committed. Per standard procedure, police would investigate every call, even the hang-ups, but would find nothing.
“A 911 call comes in, we check it, no matter what,” Woolery said. “So when you have someone calling in a false report, saying there’s a gun on the State Fair Community College campus, that’s obviously a very serious call; we’re going to send multiple units to check it out just in case, which gives the rest of the city a diminished police presence.”
Officers began to investigate the calls but James was using a TracFone, or pay-as-you go phone, which is harder to trace.
“Cellphones can give us a location but TracFones are a little harder to pinpoint unless you know the user’s service provider,” Woolery said. “Once we had some key information, we were able to start compiling a lot of the calls.”
James was arrested Feb. 16 by the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office after making one of the false 911 reports. According to Sheriff Kevin Bond, around 1:30 p.m. a 911 call came into the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office reporting an armed robbery in progress at Temp Stop on south U.S. 65 Highway.
“The caller, who we now know was James, said there was a robbery going on and he had been able to slip inside the men’s room,” Bond said. “One of my deputies happened to be in the area at the time so we was there within a matter of minutes. My deputy, thinking there was a clerk was being held up, came into the store with his gun drawn, scaring the customers that were there.”
Additional deputies and troopers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol were also dispatched to the scene. When they found nothing there, the 911 call tape was reviewed.
“At the time of the call the dispatcher was focused on getting the information and alerting authorities,” Bond said. “But when you listen back to it you can tell there’s something odd going on. There was a hesitation in his voice and he wasn’t as excited as a person would normally be in that sort of situation.”
Bond said he happened to be in the office when the call came through Saturday and, after listening to the tape, believed it to be James. The sheriff’s office “has had run-ins with James before, though they were not on criminal matters,” he added.
Neither Bond nor Woolery said they could estimate how much time has been wasted on the fake 911 calls, but Bond noted an armed robbery would take precedence over other calls.
“Something like that, if it were real, would be our number 1 priority call,” he said. “Not to mention when we go out there we were going lights and sirens, possibly putting motorists in danger trying to get there. Those fake calls take time away from investigating real calls.”
Bond said because filing a false report is a Class B misdemeanor, James is likely facing a maximum of six months in county jail and/or a fine. A detective with the SPD is “actively investigating” the calls, Woolery said, and plans to bring additional charges against James.
“It isn’t uncommon to get 911 hang-ups or pocket dials, but these calls are of a criminal nature,” Woolery said. “It’s a very serious issue, not something we’re going to take lightly.”