After learning her brother hadn't shown up for work at the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department for several days, Kathy Kavalin called Miami Police to report him missing. She didn't know he'd been dead for more than a week.
Instead, Kavalin and her worried family found out through their own investigation that after taking his own life May 31, 2017, William "Pete" Owen had been lying in the medical examiner's office for nine days. Relatives say Miami Police never called to inform them of Owen's death.
"It's really messed up," Kavalin told New Times earlier this year. "It was very devastating."
The independent watchdog overseeing Miami PD now agrees the department screwed up the case. This week, staff on the Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) said two of the responding officers were negligent and ignored MPD's policies and procedures about how to handle missing persons cases.
The CIP says the tragic situation could have been avoided with some basic investigative work after police found Owen's body beneath a Metrorail overpass. Despite the fact that his wallet contained his ID and Miami-Dade County insurance card, responding officer Det. David Carpenter didn't use the information to track down Owen's next of kin. The family also says Owen's unlocked cell phone contained only three saved contacts, none of whom were called by Carpenter.
Owen's body was moved to the medical examiner's office, where the paperwork noted he had no next of kin. Kavalin says she tried to search for her brother there but couldn't find him because of the rigidity of the online database system. She says she also called Miami Police to file a missing persons report but was told she couldn't do so over the phone; because she lives in Orlando, she was told to contact police there.
Kavalin's other brother, Wayne Owen, instead made the trip to Miami to file a report in person June 8. Wayne Owen says the officer, Gloria Douthett, took down his brother Pete's name and asked if he had any tattoos before making him wait in the lobby for three hours. After asking about the holdup, Wayne Owen says Douthett eventually gave him a case number and told him he'd be contacted by a detective, but the call didn't come for another week.
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The painful saga continued the next day, June 9, as Kavalin spoke to the medical examiner's office and finally learned the news that her brother had died. It was only then she realized that he'd been dead all along — and that police had known about it.
After its own investigation, CIP staff determined that Carpenter should have been more rigorous in tracking down Owen's family and that Douthett should have completed a more thorough missing persons report with information about Owen's physical description, frequent locations, and close contacts. The final report found that Carpenter was negligent of duty and that Douthett failed to follow proper procedure.
Miami PD's internal affairs department is still conducting its own investigation, according to CIP records. Kavalin told New Times she wants police held accountable so no other family has to go through the same ordeal.
"We're extremely frustrated," she said this past February. "There was just so much incompetence."