APD defends waiting on Mattie's Call for Lucilla Harris

8:23 PM, Dec 3, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA-- The Atlanta Police Department is defending how they handled the case of 72-year -old Lucilla Harris.

Lt. Paul Guerucci fielded questions last Tuesday.

TIMELINE | Read the timeline of events

"I can assure you we were working this case, looking for Ms. Harris from the time her family reported her missing," said Guerucci.

It was a niece who met with police last Monday to fill out a missing persons report on Harris.  She noted that at 72, she had struggles with dementia. Family members hadn't seen or heard from her since Saturday.

While the APD entered her information into a statewide database called GCIC, there are questions as to why the department didn't issue a Mattie's Call until Wednesday.

"We investigate our cases on facts, and we first have to verify things before they are considered facts," said Guerucci.

According to the law, to issue a Mattie's Call a law enforcement agency has to believe the person missing has Alzheimer's, dementia or is otherwise unable to function on their own.

"Some family members said she had dementia, but at the same time Harris lived independently, had a license, paid her bills and appeared to be mentally competent," said Guerucci.

In fact, Henry County police uncovered the fact that the night that family members began looking for her, Harris drove to Henry County.  An officer pulled her over for weaving between lanes. Sgt. Joey Smith said she claimed to be lost and asked the offer for directions back to Atlanta," said Smith.

"I've watched the dash cam video. She is happy, talkative and making perfect sense. The officer gave her directions and let her go," said Smith.

Unfortunately, it appears Harris continued south into Henry County.  Her car was later found in the woods behind a subdivision in Stockbridge.

On Monday, a neighbor noticed the  car. Not knowing who's it was he called police to check it out.

"An officer went out and ran the tag number through the GCIC system.  It did come back to Ms. Harris,  but it didn't come back as associated to a missing person," said Smith.

That's because at roughly the same time, Atlanta police say they were still meeting with family members of Harris and filling out a missing persons' report. Her information wasn't entered into to GCIC until 6:30 that night.

By Wednesday Guerucci said the department was short on leads and decided it was time to issue a Mattie's Call.

"We couldn't find her in our city so we thought it was time to expand the search to other counties around the state," Guerucci said.
It was a 911 call Friday that connected all the dots:

"I called...about a car that was abandoned on the power lines.  I just saw that car on 11Alive.  The woman has been missing for a week.  That car has been sitting out there for a week,"said the 911 caller.

Officers scoured the area Friday night and Saturday morning. Around 11am they found the body of Lucilla Harris approximately 200 yards from her ditched car.

The APD said if Harris been diagnosed with dementia or had been  living under the care of someone else a Mattie's Call would have been immediate.

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