Editor’s Note: News Channel 11 has obtained three 911 calls from May 5, 2021 placed by “Robert Voe” (pseudonym) as Johnson City Police stood outside his locked apartment door attempting to arrest him on a sealed federal warrant. That unsuccessful arrest attempt is one key to a federal lawsuit former U.S. Attorney Kateri “Kat” Dahl filed against the city and its police department. This story outlines what we know about that night based on the calls as well as written narrative about the night in portions of the city’s own answer to the lawsuit.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — “Robert Voe” placed his second 911 call in a 10-minute span at 9:56 p.m. May 5, 2021. Two Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) officers stood outside his fifth-floor apartment door attempting to serve a sealed, federal arrest warrant for “Voe” being a felon in possession of ammunition.
- 911 Dispatcher: Washington County 911.
- “Voe”: Yeah, I just called about the, the police at my door and you guys were whispering about something. I’m just trying to figure out why the police is at my door.
- 911 Dispatcher: Ok. Are you there at 200 East Main Street, Suite 500?
- “Voe”: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, what’s the problem?
- 911 Dispatcher: We do have a couple officers there and one of our sergeants is en route. Umm, have you not made contact with them?
- “Voe”: Umm, through the phone but I’m just trying to find out why they need me to open the door and they won’t tell me.
About 12 minutes after that call ended, the three officers who were outside Voe’s door left the Downtown Towers building. Voe, whom police knew was rumored to be a drug dealer and who had been the subject of multiple sexual assault investigations, wasn’t with them. He has been at large ever since.
It’s central to former U.S. attorney Kateri Dahl’s federal lawsuit filed against the Johnson City Police Department: a claim the JCPD dragged its feet on serving that federal warrant on Voe, a downtown business owner, then botched an attempt to serve that warrant.
News Channel 11 knows Voe’s actual name but is identifying him by his pseudonym because the court documents filed publicly so far don’t disclose his name.
Dahl worked with the JCPD through a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) from September 2019 through July 2021 as part of a federal program designed to help local agencies pursue federal charges in certain drug, weapons and trafficking cases.
Dahl’s lawsuit claims JCPD leaders were dismissive of evidence that Voe should be investigated for multiple alleged sexual assaults and that her MOU wasn’t renewed in retaliation because she pushed them to build a broader case against Voe.
On April 13, 2021, about five months after Voe came onto her radar, Dahl obtained a federal warrant on the narrow charge of felon in possession of ammunition. After what her suit claims were “approximately 30” requests for officers to arrest Voe, Detective Toma Sparks issued a “be on the lookout” (BOLO) for Voe at 5:20 p.m. May 5.
According to the city’s own legal defense brief, officer Jason Lewis went to Voe’s downtown apartment at 9:30 that night.
Court filings and public records show Lewis and two officers who joined him outside Voe’s door — Vanessa McKinney and Sgt. Jim Tallmadge — attempted to get him face to face and serve the sealed warrant.
But 42 minutes after Lewis’s arrival, he and the other two officers left without Voe. In the interim, Voe had called 911 twice — at 9:46 and 9:56 — before placing a brief third call at 10:19, seven minutes after logs show the trio “clear” of the scene.
In its answer to Dahl’s June 23, 2022 lawsuit, the city states that a supervisor “advised to vacate the building because they could not verify that ‘Voe’ was the person in the condo.”
That answer contrasts with Dahl’s claim in her lawsuit — that officers outside Voe’s door improperly announced they had a warrant even though his indictment was sealed and then left. Those decisions, Dahl’s suit states, showed the officers “violated their duties under clear policy and almost universal practice” by not attempting an arrest.
The calls Voe made at 9:46 p.m. and 9:56 p.m. paint a muddled picture, as he alternately denies and admits to being at his home address.
But even when he denies being at home during the first call, the 911 dispatcher clearly believes — based on an audible voice in the background, presumably of an officer at Voe’s door — that he is home.
Second half of 4-minute 9:46 p.m. call:
- 911 dispatcher: Okay, so you are home, right?
- Voe: No. I’m very close, I can be there in a few minutes. (PAUSE) What is this about? (PAUSE). Hello?
- 911: Alright, can you give me one second, sir? I’m talking to the officer.
- (Voice in background — ‘Yeah, he’s here, he’s talking…’)
- Voe (cutting in): Yeah, it’s just, I don’t want all this secretive stuff.
- 911: Ok. Alright. He knows that you’re there and we have another officer on the way, so you can open the door and talk to him, and, so maybe he’ll go away, or you can keep having to deal with him. Either one you want to do. (Pause). Are you there? (Pause) Hello?
The BOLO goes out
The journey from Dahl’s first knowledge of Voe to the night of May 5 lasted about six months.
Police first approached Dahl about Voe in November 2020 after they discovered ammunition in his safe. They were investigating the case of Mikayla Evans, a woman who had survived a September fall from Voe’s fifth-floor window.
But police also told Dahl about additional rumors and concerns — that Voe was a drug dealer and rumored to be a serial rapist. Dahl spent about five months trying to get the investigation broadened, but according to her suit, finally proceeded with securing a warrant on the weapons charges.
The city’s answer says JCPD leaders thought a “prompt indictment” on the weapons charge was “the most feasible option to facilitate further investigation of potential charges for cocaine trafficking, gun possession or sexual assault.”
Regardless, the indictment came April 13, 2021. Dahl pressed for it to be served, and on May 5, Sparks issued a BOLO. It gave Voe’s specific address, noted the building had a code to enter, and said Voe also owned a garage downtown.
“(I)f he is picked up contact me so I can let Kat Dahl know,” Sparks wrote.
While it’s unknown whether he saw Voe outside his building or just elected to go knock on his door, police logs provided by Johnson City show Jason Lewis arrived at Voe’s fifth-floor door by 9:50.
The first 911 call
Voe’s calls paint a picture of a wary suspect and several officers who seem to think — but aren’t quite sure — that Voe is behind the door to his apartment in a downtown high rise.
In his first call, Voe says he has “police at my door that won’t tell me why he’s there” and asks to be connected to someone “who can tell me more about this.”
The dispatcher asks for his address and he says “200 East Main Street.” She asks, “You’re at 200 East Main Street” and he says, “Yep.”
Shortly after that he tells the dispatcher he’s not there, but after she’s heard talking to another person, she says, “so you are home, you are talking to the officer, right? Through the door.”
Voe denies that and says it’s probably his roommate or “whoever’s there,” before again asking what the issue is.
The call goes back and forth, with Voe at one point saying the officer “can call me and tell me what this is about or wait for my lawyer to get here.”
After the dispatcher continues to suggest Voe is at his apartment and says of the officer “he knows you’re there,” and suggests officers will wait until he answers the door, Voe eventually quits answering her and the call ends.
The second 911 call
Within six minutes of ending the first call, Voe had called again. It was 9:56, and logs show officer Vanessa McKinney had arrived two minutes before.
“Are you there at 200 East Main Street Suite 500?” a different dispatcher asks, referring to his exact address within the Downtown Towers building.
“Yeah,” he answers. “Yeah. What’s the problem?”
After Voe says he wants to know why officers want him to open the door, adding “they won’t tell me,” the dispatcher attempts to keep him on the line.
Voe’s apparent ignorance about the reason officers were there appears to contradict a claim in Dahl’s lawsuit — that three officers described as John Doe 1, 2 and 3 tipped Voe off about the sealed warrant.
Voe continues trying to learn why officers are there, his voice eventually rising in apparent anger or frustration.
- Voe: Yeah, there’s officers trying to call me but it’s going to voicemail I guess ’cause I’m on 911.
- 911 Dispatcher: Ok, ok. Yeah, I think they’re just wanting to talk to you, but…
- Voe (cutting in): About what?!
- 911 Dispatcher: I, I, honestly I don’t know but I’m more than happy if you want …
- Voe (cutting in): Yeah, right. Well somebody needs to tell me.
The second call ends at 9:59 after the dispatcher says she’ll have one of the officers call Voe.
The aftermath and what’s next
Police logs show the trio (Sergeant Jim Tallmadge had joined Lewis and McKinney) left the fifth floor at about 10:12 p.m.
Dahl’s job ended a couple of months later. While Voe was seen around the area at least once — when he made a scene at the Washington County Register of Deeds office in April 2022 — he has not been apprehended. He became the subject of a federal marshal’s search in the weeks after Dahl’s lawsuit.
Johnson City City Manager Cathy Ball told News Channel 11 she’s reviewed the 911 calls from that night. Based on her understanding of proper police procedure, her review and conversations with the JCPD, supervisors acted properly in sending the three officers away from the scene.
One note in the police logs, attributed to Tallmadge, says “suspect known to be hostile.”
Johnson City has contracted with a law firm specializing in police matters to review the JCPD’s handling of sexual assault cases. Dahl’s suit alleges that JCPD mishandled numerous allegations against Voe and that even Chief Karl Turner, who is a defendant in the suit, was dismissive of Dahl’s concerns in that regard.
A federal judge recently scheduled a jury trial in the lawsuit for May 2024. Depositions are set to begin in late March, 2023.