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Ravens Insider: ‘Dig deeper’: Experts question response to initial 911 call in Zay Flowers case

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The exchange through a Ring doorbell was brief, and the door never opened.

A Baltimore County Police officer outside the Owings Mills home was following up phone calls with a woman who dialed 911, then hung up, and was described as “in distress” when a dispatcher called her back.

But the woman behind the door sounded confused, asking what address police wanted and then, “Is there a problem?”

“Yeah, you called the police,” the officer answered.

“I did — I did not. I just woke up,” the woman replied.

With that, the interaction, recorded on police body-camera video, ended.

“OK, have a good day,” the officer said as she turned away, heading back down the snowy steps that led to her squad car. She never saw anyone inside the home.

That January 911 call would, days later, become part of a report by a woman who alleged to police in Massachusetts that she suffered bruises in a “violent” domestic incident involving Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers. A subsequent criminal investigation in Baltimore County closed without charges against Flowers. The NFL announced last month that it would not discipline him, citing insufficient evidence that Flowers did anything that violated its policy.

While the official investigations are over, the county police department’s initial response raises broader questions about how it handles calls requesting checks on people or locations. The patrol officer’s interaction at the door was brief, and while she was at the address a dispatcher provided, it appears to have been the wrong location and the officer left without knocking on other doors.

The officer was dispatched to a unit in the same building as the home that real estate records indicated Flowers bought in 2023. Dispatch records indicate the address police used was generated by geolocation that incorporated data from the 911 caller’s cellphone, a method that can produce an imprecise location.

The Baltimore Sun shared body-camera footage of the officer’s visit, obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request, with domestic violence advocates and policing experts. Some said they saw lapses in the officer failing to ask to speak face-to-face with the person she was talking to and in not seeking a private conversation to check on that person’s well-being.

It’s not clear who the officer talked to through the Ring doorbell; she knocked on only one door, bypassing the door to Flowers’ unit, which is visible a few feet away in the officer’s body-camera video. A woman who answered the Ring doorbell Monday declined to talk with a Sun reporter.

“A reasonable officer with that piece of information — that the caller was described as ‘in distress’ or distressed — that would provide a little more impetus to dig deeper, as far as those things: right place, face-to-face meeting and identification of the person,” said Ashley Heiberger, a retired Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, police captain and police practices expert. “So many times in policing, you’re not dealing with absolute certainties.”

Baltimore County Police, in an emailed statement, said each call an officer responds to “presents its own unique set of circumstances.” Officers use their knowledge, training and situational awareness, and act on “the information they have available to them at the time,” the department said.

In this case, the patrol officer was responding to a “check on location” call, rather than a report of domestic violence or a welfare check. The officer sought “anyone who needed assistance,” county police said, but didn’t locate anyone who seemed in distress. The patrol officer, identified by the department in the video as T. McCall, referred questions from The Sun to a department spokesperson.

The department noted, too, that the officer “stayed in the area and remained visible” for a period of time afterward.

The responding officer and 911 dispatchers knew little about the nature of the incident inside the town house where the caller was located.

Audio of the 911 callback released by the department in February captured a 911 employee asking whether there was an emergency or whether the caller needed help. A woman in a shaky voice said, “No, that’s OK, thank you.” The 911 employee told her to have a good day, and she replied, “Thanks, you, too.”

Over the radio, a dispatcher told police an officer needed to “check location,” and listed an Owings Mills address. They then gave a brief description: “Female caller, location came from rebid,” the dispatcher said, using a term associated with geolocating a cell call.

“On callback, female answered and was crying,” the dispatcher said. “Said she didn’t have an emergency, but seemed in distress when she hung up the phone.”

A “check on location” is a code the county 911 center uses for hang-up calls or requests for an officer to check on a property. On the other hand, a “welfare check,” which was not how this call was classified, is used when a caller says they are urgently concerned about someone.

Some advocates interviewed by The Sun praised police for following up on the 911 hang-up both by phone and in person.

Joan Meier, a law professor who founded and now directs the George Washington University’s National Family Violence Law Center, called it a good sign that first responders recognized someone might not be OK just because they said so. But, Meier said, police shouldn’t “leave it at that.”

“They took one step in the right direction, and then they stopped,” she said. “If she had been the victim and it had been the right house … it would have been important for them to request, ‘Can I come in and talk to you in person?'”

The caller to Baltimore County Police later told Massachusetts police she was “physically assaulted” and had multiple bruises from an altercation at the home where she lived with her boyfriend. She said, according to county police records, that he “trashed all her stuff” and that his brother drew a firearm.

The woman said it was a “really bad 10 minutes,” but she “hasn’t been scared since,” according to police documents. She didn’t take Massachusetts police up on an offer to apply for a protective order and didn’t want to move forward when contacted by Baltimore County Police. Police records do not identify the woman who called 911 or the woman who spoke through the Ring doorbell.

In this specific case, it’s not clear whether laying eyes on the person behind the doorbell would have changed the outcome, particularly as the officer knocked only on what appeared to be the wrong door.

The woman who did call 911 later told police in Massachusetts that she closed the window shades in Flowers’ condo when police arrived in the area. She added that officers remained in the area for two hours, which she said helped de-escalate the incident because “the brother got scared, left the room, put the gun away, and that is what really made it stop,” the documents said.

Flowers has not spoken with the media since the investigation was first reported, although he recently worked out at the team facility. His representatives did not respond to earlier messages seeking comment.

Ravens' Zay Flowers cleans out his locker as players packed up their belongings a day after their season-ending loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)
The Ravens’ Zay Flowers cleaned out his locker as players packed up their belongings a day after their season-ending loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

Some advocates said they hope the police department uses the incident as a “learning moment.”

In similar circumstances, it is a “very real concern” that a person who called 911 and hung up could then say they don’t need police because there is “somebody continuing to assert power and control” over them, said Amanda Rodriguez, the executive director of TurnAround, a local domestic violence and sexual assault nonprofit organization.

Having an in-person conversation with someone allows for an officer to visually check on the person’s condition, to speak with others who might be inside a home and to ask questions to get a better sense of why 911 was dialed, experts said.

“My greatest fear is that the abuser is with them, and they can’t verbalize anything other than, ‘I’m OK,’ or ‘I didn’t call,'” Rodriguez said.

If police want to be “proactive and responsive” to domestic violence, it’s important to have a policy and practice for what to do when victims say they’re OK, Meier said. That can happen, even when people aren’t safe, because they are intimidated or afraid of what will happen if they report something.

“Terror goes with the territory, and our system has to work around that and work with that in mind,” she added.

Experts don’t agree on how the call should have been handled.

Shamus Smith, a doctoral lecturer of criminology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said if an officer knocks on someone’s door and they don’t want to talk, it could be better not to push further. The person behind the door could see that as harassment, said Smith, a former police officer, and it could be “invasive” to presume the call is related to any domestic violence.

“I always stress the responsibility … to protect the privacy of a victim and their overall wellness,” Smith said. “Where you have a very vague 911 call, and you’re not able to listen to the initial 911 call to dispatch, in certain situations, [officers’] hands are tied and they can only do but so much.”

Alesha Durfee, a sociologist and Saint Louis University women’s and gender studies professor, noted that the officer didn’t report any disruption from outside the home, such as objects being thrown or screaming. The officer wrote in her report that she “could not hear any excessive noise when approaching the residence.”

Going beyond speaking with a resident, Durfee said, might create additional harm.

“You could be doing more damage here than good,” said Durfee, pointing to situations where a victim may have fought back against an abuser or may be intoxicated, among other scenarios with potential complications and repercussions.

To some domestic violence survivors, safety could be money to change their locks or to move out, rather than a criminal prosecution, Durfee said. She stressed the importance of survivors’ connections to resources and services that are not connected to law enforcement.

“When you start going out to crime scenes,” she said, “you realize the police interact with a lot of different people, and in many cases, that interaction doesn’t go well.”

Help for victims of domestic violence is available 24/7 at the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233).

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