It was a 911 call that Omaha police typically pounce on.
A man put a gun in my face and threatened me, the caller said.
The caller — 20-year-old Nakia Johnson — told the operator she knew only the man's gang name: La-Lao or Laylow.
Also known as convicted felon Tracy Parnell.
Two police officers responded to the apartment near 60th Street and Hartman Avenue and caught up with Johnson a few blocks away. At her request, they took her away from the area — giving her a ride to her home.
What police didn't do next has raised eyebrows and questions.
The responding officers didn't file a police report. No investigator followed up on the reports of a felon with a gun. And no one tried to apprehend Parnell.
Two nights later, a gunman opened fire, riddling Johnson and her cousin Eriana Carr, a 16-year-old Benson High School student. Johnson survived despite being shot 11 times. Carr died.
Now Parnell will be tried on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and three gun charges. His motive, prosecutors say, was rooted in the gun incident two days earlier — the one police didn't follow up on.
That has observers from Carr's family to Parnell's defense attorney asking: Would Carr be alive if police had followed up on the gun threat? And why didn't police pursue Parnell, a convicted felon, in the two days between the threat and the slaying?
“A joke of an investigation,” Parnell's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Kelly Steenbock, said of the officers' handling of the Oct. 28 emergency call from Johnson.
Lt. Darci Tierney, an Omaha police spokeswoman, said it's her understanding that Johnson told responding officers that she wanted to get away from the apartment, and the officers gave her a ride home. Tierney said she didn't know why officers didn't file a report.
Pressed in court earlier this month, homicide Detective Candace Phillips testified she also didn't know why.
Listening in the back of the courtroom, Carr's relatives cringed.
“It makes my head hurt,” said Danielle Collins, Carr's cousin.
Omaha police union leaders have questions of their own — all of them centered on why Parnell was even out of jail in late October. On the union's website, leaders highlight an Oct. 15, 2012, incident in which officers spotted Parnell making a wide turn near 30th and Pinkney Streets.
After a chase that reached 60 mph in a residential area, officers tracked down Parnell and found a ski mask, gloves and a stun gun in the front seat. Parnell sat in jail for three days until Judge Craig McDermott set Parnell's bail at 10 percent of $5,000. The next day, Parnell posted $500 and was released.
“A more serious and higher bond — one that reflects his criminal past and the serious nature of the violation at hand — *could have* handed us and Eriana Carr's family a very different world today,” the union wrote on its website.
It was just one of many times that Parnell was out after an arrest.
Parnell, a gang member whose relatives include notorious Omaha gangster Terry Barfield, had his first significant encounter with police five years ago, when he was caught in a stolen truck.
After a brief stint in juvenile court, he bounced between jail and the streets on robbery and gun charges, often bailing out of jail before trial or being released after authorities were unable to build a case against him.
In fact, the first part of 2012 marked the longest time Parnell had been free in his adult life.
Then came October.
Parnell, Johnson, Veronica Thompson, Sabrina Sayavong and a man named Melvin were at an all-night “kickback,” or party, on Oct. 28 in the apartment near 60th Street and Hartman Avenue.
Johnson said she had lain down to go to sleep about 7 a.m. when Parnell shoved a gun in her face. The reason? One of the partygoers had told Parnell that Johnson was dating a rival gang member named Ryan who was talking about Parnell.
Johnson alleged that Parnell ordered her, at gunpoint, to call Ryan and tell him to “get my name out of his mouth.”
She instead called police. Parnell left.
On the 911 call, Johnson expressed both anger and fear. “I got some guy threatening my life right now — in my face with a pistol,” she said.
The 911 operator asked for a description of the gunman and asked her what the dispute was about.
“He's mad about a situation that ain't got nothing to do with me,” Johnson said. “He trying to hurt me.”
The operator told Johnson that police were on the way. Minutes later, a 911 dispatcher called back, asking Johnson where she was.
She told the dispatcher she was up the street, near 60th Street and Sorensen Parkway.
“I left,” she said. “You all was taking too long. And I felt threatened and I don't want to stay there no more.”
Johnson agreed to walk back toward the officers, Andrew Passo and Shane Bonacci.
It's unclear what happened from there, though court testimony indicated the officers gave Johnson a ride home to 35th Street and Redick Avenue — the same address where Carr would die two days later.
Prosecutors have charged Parnell with murder based on Johnson's account that the gunman opened fire from a blue Nissan Altima without a front bumper.
Police found a blue Nissan Altima in a garage rented out by Parnell's girlfriend — and the girlfriend has told authorities that Parnell used the car the night of the shooting. Two days later, she said, he gave her cash to rent the garage and hide the car.
Steenbock said her client denies involvement in the murder. She pointed out that prosecutors have no murder weapon, no eyewitness and no evidence directly pointing to Parnell as the gunman.
And without reports from the responding officers, Steenbock argued, the state has, at best, flimsy evidence on the purported motive.
Steenbock also pointed out that police had been quick to pull over Parnell for an offense as minor as a wide turn just two weeks before the threat and shooting.
“If they're so hot after him,” Steenbock said, “why in the world wouldn't they follow up on this girl's report that a felon was shoving a gun in her face?”
Sitting in court and listening to the missed chances to take Parnell off the street, Collins shook her head.
Carr was an honors student, cheerleader and basketball player at Benson High — “a fabulous student,” as her principal described her.
Collins talked about how her daughter and Carr should be gearing up for their senior year at Benson.
“It's some bullcrap,” Collins said. “If they had done their job, my little cousin would be here today.”
The charmed life of Tracy Parnell
As one authority put it, Tracy Parnell is on the release-and-catch program. • Every time the 22-year-old is arrested for a crime, he doesn't “stay caught” for long. • Sometimes he pleads to reduced charges and is released. Other times he serves short sentences. • “This guy skates all the time,” one law enforcement official said. • Parnell's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Kelly Steenbock, has a different take. • “Maybe they can't pin anything on him because he's not doing the things they think he's doing,” Steenbock said. “If the police believe that he committed crimes, then they should do a sufficient investigation to convict him of those crimes.” • A look at what authorities call Parnell's “maddening” history:
May 26, 2008
Tracy Parnell, 17, flees Omaha police in a stolen truck. Officers arrest him and he is charged with two felonies: flight to avoid arrest and receiving stolen property. Both charges are transferred to juvenile court.
Oct. 25, 2008
Officers observe Parnell, who goes by the gang name “La-Lao” or “Laylow,” roll through a stop sign at 42nd Street and Grand Avenue. On approach, the officers see Parnell reach toward the center console floor. After ordering him out of the car, officers find a defaced .380-caliber handgun. Parnell is charged as an adult and admits to felony gun possession.
As that case is pending, Parnell is released on $750 cash bail.
Jan. 10, 2009
Parnell and another man enter Custom Auto Care near 70th and Van Dorn Streets in Lincoln. The other man points a gun. Parnell demands money. The men take cash and race out of the store.
Lincoln police respond — and a police dog tracks down Parnell after tracing his scent north from the store. Three witnesses identify Parnell as one of the robbers. Police also match a shoe print in the mud to one of the shoes Parnell was wearing.
He is tried again as an adult and faces one to 20 years in prison for being an accessory to a robbery. Lancaster County District Judge John Colborn sentences Parnell to two to four years in prison and gives him credit for 255 days served.
Nov. 6, 2009
Parnell, still in prison for the Lincoln robbery, is sentenced for the defaced firearm charge. Douglas County District Judge James Gleason imposes a one- to two-year sentence — and allows Parnell to serve it at the same time as the robbery sentence.
Jan. 7, 2011
Parnell is released after serving half of the robbery term. Under state sentencing guidelines for most crimes, defendants serve half of the sentence, provided they behave in prison.
March 5, 2011
Two men enter a Valentino's restaurant at 3450 Center St. A Val's delivery driver spots the gunmen as he returns to the store and calls police.
Both men brandish handguns and steal about $600 from the business and pocket change from two customers. Police chase a green van from the store parking lot to a dead end at 32nd and Pacific Streets. Two men take off running. Police catch one of them — Islands Lindsey — but the other man gets away. Police then trace the getaway vehicle to Parnell's mother, Melissa Barfield.
A few weeks later police receive an anonymous tip that Parnell is bragging about the robbery. They listen to a jailhouse phone call in which Lindsey's girlfriend chastises Lindsey, saying he wouldn't have been arrested had he not been hanging around “Tracy.” And they intercept a letter Lindsey addresses to “Laylow” in which Lindsey says police knew Parnell was involved in the robbery and that Parnell should “take the rap” for it.
Prosecutors charge Parnell with three counts of robbery and three counts of gun use. They then try to get Lindsey to cooperate and testify against Parnell. Lindsey refuses and is sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
Without Lindsey's cooperation or any witness identification, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine says, prosecutors have little choice but to reduce Parnell's charges. Parnell pleads guilty to theft by unlawful taking and faces up to 20 months to five years in jail.
Judge Patrick Mullen sentences him to 360 days in jail. With credit for time served, he is released in early 2012.
“It's frustrating,” Kleine says. “There's times when we know we have the right person, but things don't pan out from an evidence perspective — and we can't prove it.”