Family’s tragic death could have been avoided, loved ones say
‘You have to go in,’ son-in-law tells police in desperate 911 call
ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - The out-of-state family of a couple who died by suicide is accusing a metro Atlanta police department of failing to perform an effective welfare check.
Jennifer and Jeffrey Ramsdell had been married more than 30 years but had been struggling over the past year after their youngest son, Jacob, killed himself. Jeffrey Ramsdell was also suffering from brain injuries and memory issues.
“I’m a psychologist in New Hampshire and I’m a little worried,” Aaron Wolfe, the Ramsdells’ son-in-law, told Gwinnett County police on December 5, 2021; Wolfe and his wife live in Seabrook, New Hampshire. “[Jennifer Ramsdell] hasn’t been answering the phone and some comments her husband has been saying is making us a little worried.”
Wolfe had been worried about his Lawrenceville, Georgia-based in-laws, but on Dec. 5, Jeffrey Ramsdell had allegedly told other family members he wanted to “do a murder suicide” and asked them to come “pick up the dogs.”
“The police said they couldn’t go inside,” Wolfe explained. “They said there was no reasonable cause; there was no reason for them to go in. I pulled out the fact I’m a mental health worker, and said, ‘In my personal opinion, you have to go in.’”
According to records obtained by CBS46 Investigates, Aaron and his wife requested police to enter the Ramsdells’ home at 12:58 p.m. At 2:17 p.m. an officer noted in the dispatch system he “attempted contact” at the residence.
Body camera footage of the officer’s welfare check reveals he knocked on the door, then waited for a response. He knocked again, waited, and left.
“No answer,” the officer said as he walked back to his patrol car. The entire check lasted less than three minutes.
“It seems like a lot wasn’t done,” Wolfe said.
After the check, the officer called Wolfe to tell him of the attempt. Wolfe, with his wife in the background, repeated his fears and asked the officer to reconsider entering the home. The officer then called his supervisor to weigh the risks of entering, and a decision was reached to not enter the home.
“I’m just sitting here thinking, we kick in the door and they’re not in there, who’s going to be held to repair the door,” the supervisor can be heard on recorded body camera video. “I hate to tell them this, but say hey give it a day. And well this is it, if they’re dead, they’re going to be dead tomorrow,” he continued.
The officer responded saying “yeah, give it a day and on Tuesday have them try another one because by then, it should start to smell.”
Police did enter the home after 5 p.m. the same day, when an out-of-town family friend drove two hours to the home and let police in. That’s when the Ramsdells’ bodies were discovered, both dead from fatal gunshot wounds. The Ramsdells’ time of death has not been released.
In that roughly four-hour span, Wolfe said police failed to perform an effective welfare check, and that one or both of his in-laws could have been saved.
Gwinnett police’s welfare check policy states in part, “Members will make a reasonable effort to conduct a welfare check of citizens … Officers are prohibited from forcing entry into a private residence or business unless there is probably cause to believe exigent circumstances exist.”
Vince Champion, a veteran law enforcement officer and currently the southeast director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, reviewed Gwinnett’s policy.
“The problem comes down to your high liabilities,” Champion said, “and just how far does the public want law enforcement to go in violation of their rights when kicking in somebody’s door.”
Champion said permission to enter a home can only come from homeowners or if there are “obvious issues on the outside of the home, broken windows.”
But the officer appears to have missed some suspicious signs. Two bullet holes currently visible at the home appear to be same ones visible at the time of the officer’s welfare check.
One of the bullet holes - this one, in a window next to the front door - was old, according to the family. But another near the bottom of the door was new, with the Gwinnett County medical examiner confirming it was the exit hole of one of the Ramsdell’s gunshot wounds.
Champion said the bullet holes themselves should have given the officer enough reason to enter the home. “That would be enough at that point,” he said. “It seems like due diligence wasn’t done by the police officers from not going in, to the mistakes on the bullet hole, to just the absence of standard operating procedure. It seems like a lot was left astray.”
Gwinnett police responded with this statement.
“Our agency responds to welfare checks and we make a reasonable effort to make contact with anyone at the location when responding to a specific home address or business. If our officers are unable to make contact with anyone and there are no signs of distress or concern that is the limit of the action we can take. In most cases welfare checks do not concern an issue of criminal nature. We do not have any additional comments on any specific cases.”