A Texas police officer who failed to find a missing 8-year-old in a hotel room where the girl was located only two hours later has been terminated from his job.
Sgt. Richardson Wolfe has been indefinitely suspended from his position with the Forest Hill Police Department following the arrest of Michael Webb, 51, who has been accused of the aggravated kidnapping of Salem Sabatka. Wolfe had twice been called to a hotel in Fort Worth, Texas on May 19 where Webb had been staying and failed to find the child Webb is accused of kidnapping.
Forest Hill Police Chief Dan Dennis, who clarified that indefinite suspension is equivalent to being fired, described Wolfe's actions especially during the second visit to the hotel as "woefully incompetent" and displaying "shocking ineptitude."
"After looking at all of it, I wouldn't have wanted him to respond to the call if it was my 8-year-old, so I can't keep him on staff," said Dennis, according to WFAA of Dallas, Texas. "Obviously I wish this had gone differently; obviously I'm disappointed in the officer involved."
“I can’t say that the search was unreasonable,” Dennis added, according to The Star-Telegram. “I can say that I wish the search had been done differently, but I can’t say it was unreasonable.”
A call had originally been made to 911 by an employee of the hotel who noted that Webb matched the description of Sabatka's abductor. Officers arrived and knocked on the door of the room where Webb was staying. Webb ultimately agreed to a search but was initially reluctant to allow them inside, putting the investigation in jeopardy.
“So essentially, they talked their way into the room,” Dennis said. “They spend something like 17 minutes trying to talk their way into that room. They wanted in that room. They really wanted to find that girl. They really pushed the bounds of consent to get into that room, quite frankly.”
Wolfe proceeded to search every area of the room he could in the approximately 90 seconds Webb allowed him to do so. Even though Sabatka was in the room at the time, Wolfe could not find her. Officers at the time also failed to identify Webb's vehicle despite it being parked at the facility.
Hours later, two Good Samaritans that had been searching for Sabatka called police saying they had identified Webb's vehicle in the parking lot of the hotel. Police were able to gain access to Webb's room once again — this time finding the small girl.
“I can tell you [Wolfe's] reaction through the entire incident did not meet my expectations,” Dennis said. “In my opinion, he seemed more concerned about being in trouble than anything else. ... If we have to get drug through the mud to assure that this criminal case goes forward and is successful, we’ll get drug through the mud. We will take it on the chin every day of the week because the reputation of my department is not as important as a successful prosecution in this case.”
Wolfe had been an employee of the Forest Hill Police Department since 2012. He is no longer listed as a member of their roster. He had not been disciplined prior to this incident.
More information about the nature of the search was not available, as an investigation is ongoing.
Wolfe's attorney, Robyn Trosper with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said she delivered an appeal on Thursday and would not comment further.
Webb was indicted on Wednesday. He was at first arrested on a state aggravated kidnapping charge and was later transferred to federal custody on a kidnapping charge. He faces six additional state charges of aggravated sexual assault. He remains in federal custody.
Sabatka had abducted on May 18. Security video of the child being grabbed from her mother ultimately led to Webb's capture.
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