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Washington County 911 dispatchers honored for handling of Red Roof incident

Sheriff Bill Hutton, Darlene Pankonie (Manager), Bobbi Jones (PSAP Coordinator), Chuck Venske (MN APCO President), Matt Johnson (911 Public Safety Dispatcher), Marsha Pacolt (MN APCO Vice President), Angie Pommerening (911 Public Safety Dispatcher)

There was no question Aug. 31, 2012, was a stressful night for many members of the local law enforcement community.

That included 911 dispatchers, who fielded calls coming from the Red Roof Inn during an incident that led to one man being shot dead and several others being sexually assaulted during a hostage situation at the Woodbury motel.

Those 911 operators were honored for their work during the incident last week at a joint conference for the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, the Minnesota Sheriff's Association and the National Emergency Number Association.

The communications center team was awarded the "Make a Difference Award" at the conference.

"I had no reservations whatsoever putting the staff forward for that award," Darlene Pankonie said.

Pankonie, the Washington County Sheriff's Communications Center manager, nominated the team of dispatchers who worked the night of the Red Roof incident for the award.

"All their elements of knowledge and training had to come together," she said. "They did a good job. It's not your everyday call."

She said dispatcher Matt Johnson shouldered the heavy load during the incident. He talked to the suspect, Demetrius Santreell Ballinger, who - according to a transcript released in 2012 - threatened a shoot-out with police, threatened to kill the 11 hostages in his room and himself.

"I ain't leaving this hotel unless I'm in a body bag," he said on Friday, Aug. 31, a 911 transcript of the call states.

Pankonie said Johnson "fell back on techniques he had learned" during the call and helped keep the situation calm while attempting to establish a rapport with the caller.

"He prevented further escalation until the SWAT negotiators took over," Pankonie said.

Those negotiators also were commended in March for their work during the Red Roof incident.

Pankonie said that while Johnson handled the hardest part of the calls, the incident required a team effort that lasted about five hours.

Though the outcome was "not perfect," Pankonie said in reference to the shooting death of Mark Henderson, a hostage in the room, "the actions that day prevented further harm to the hostages and the other people on that scene."

The Washington County communications center won the same award in 2008 for its handling of a disaster in Hugo after a tornado struck that city.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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