As gun owners, we’re well aware of the adage that “when seconds count, police are only minutes away.” Bill Norkunas, a 70-year old resident of Broward County, Florida, can tell you firsthand just how accurate that statement is, because he was forced to fend off a home intruder for more than fifteen minutes earlier this month while sheriff’s deputies waited at the end of his street.
Norkunas, who had polio as a child and has suffered lifelong disabilities ever since, had just gotten out of the shower on the evening of November 7th when he saw a shadowy form outside of his bathroom window. He turned on an outside light hoping to scare the stranger away, but instead the man was drawn like a moth to a flame to the front door of Norkunas’ home.
Norkunas grabbed his gun and his phone and called 911 while he warned the stranger that he would shoot if necessary. Despite repeated calls by neighbors and Norkunas himself, however, sheriffs deputies got no closer than 500 yards to Norkunas, and now the Broward County Sheriff’s Office isn’t answering any questions about why deputies didn’t respond, issuing a statement to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper filled with boilerplate language about an ongoing investigation and promises that the office is constantly reviewing and assessing “its responses to emergency calls in order to provide the highest level of service to the public.”
Neighbors would not call the response “the highest level.” Instead of stopping the would-be-intruder at Norkunas’ door, witnesses said, the deputies stayed down the street and around a corner, some 500 yards away while Norkunas and his neighbors flooded the 911 emergency communications system begging for help for almost 15 minutes.
“If he opens the door can I shoot him?” Norkunas asks the 911 dispatcher about two minutes into his phone call for help.
By the third minute, Norkunas is telling the dispatcher that the stranger is trying to kick the door in, according to recording of the call. While still on the phone with the dispatcher, Norkunas can be heard warning the stranger that he better leave or he is going to get shot. Until this point in his life, Norkunas had never pointed a gun at anyone before.
“Get the cops here quick,” he barks into the phone at minute four.
Three minutes later, Norkunas’ voice is weary: “Sheriff, hurry up please.”
Three more minutes pass. “Where the hell are the cruisers? … They are still not here. Jesus Christ. There’s still no cruisers. Come to my house, please please.”
He tells the dispatcher his glass door is smashed in and he doesn’t know what to do. The dispatcher tells him the deputies are canvassing the area to “make sure no one else gets hurt.”
Even after Norkunas’ glass door was shattered deputies failed to respond. In fact, the suspect, 23-year old Timothy Johnson, eventually wandered away from Norkunas’ home and began trying to break into several other homes, all while Norkunas’ neighbor Julio Fuentes watched and followed from a distance while on the phone with dispatchers.
“Oh God, oh God, Oh God he’s walking to my f— house. Holy f—. Please help me. … Please hurry the f– up,” cried out another neighbor, who spent several minutes on the phone with a dispatcher initially trying to get help for Norkunas and then for herself as Johnson headed toward her house.
With each minute that passes, the more incensed the woman becomes.
The dispatcher tries to assure her help is on the way.
With Fuentes still following the man, the man then goes to another neighbor’s house. The woman tells this to the dispatcher. “Oh my God this guy is f— terrorizing everybody’s house and you guys are nowhere to be found.”
She lays into the dispatcher: “He could have gotten away and he could have hurt someone. My neighbor is disabled. My neighbor walks with a cane and you guys take your time. You guys take your f— time.
The dispatcher replies: “They were not taking their time.”
Evenually Johnson wandered close enough to where deputies had gathered several hundred yards away and was taken into custody, but the incident has left Norkunas and his neighbors shaken. Norkunas says that almost every neighbor he’s spoken to says they now want a gun of their own in case something like this happens again.
The response, or lack thereof, on the part of Broward County deputies brings to mind the similar response to the shootings at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, when deputies waited outside the school rather than rush into the building to confront the shooter.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that law enforcement have no obligation to protect you as an individual, so Norkunas and his neighbors have no legal recourse against the sheriff’s department for refusing to respond to the multiple 911 calls. Norkunas says the sheriff’s office offered him $500 from the county’s victim services fund, which he refused.
Johnson, meanwhile, has already been released from custody on $14,100 bail. I hope for his sake that he stays far away from Norkunas’ neighborhood, because I have a feeling that the residents aren’t going to be waiting for police to respond the next time someone tries breaking into their homes.