Two Detroit police special operations officers were suspended Tuesday after Chief James Craig said they failed to disclose that they’d engaged in a high-speed chase that ended in the death of a 19-year-old man.
Craig said a criminal investigation has been launched in the wake of the pursuit, which happened about 10:30 p.m. Monday in the 9th Precinct — the same precinct where 15-year-old ATV driver Damon Grimes died after being chased by a Michigan State Police crew.
The Aug. 26 incident prompted state police to change their rules on pursuits in the city to mirror Detroit’s policy, which prohibits police from chasing suspects unless they’re suspected of a violent felony.
The victim in Monday's incident has been identified as Jerry Bradford Jr. An autopsy revealed he died of multiple injuries, Wayne County Medical Examiner spokeswoman Lisa Croff said.
Craig said the two officers involved in Monday’s chase “clearly violated our written policy, and then failed to disclose, as recently as (Tuesday) morning, that there even was a chase.”
The officers further violated department policy by not going on the air and notifying dispatch they were engaged in a high-speed chase, Craig said.
“As recently as (Tuesday) morning, there was no explanation to me during a briefing,” the chief said. “I asked if they were in a high-speed chase, and I never got a solid answer until I pressed and was able to determine they had been involved in a chase.”
Craig would not provide details about how he found out there had been a pursuit. He said the two officers have been suspended with pay, although the chief said he will ask the Board of Police Commissioners to withhold their salaries.
“I don’t have the authority to suspend without pay, but I can request it — and because of the egregious nature of this case, I’m going to request it,” the chief said.
In addition to the criminal probe, Craig said investigations are underway by the department’s internal affairs unit and the Fatal Squad.
“It’s a horrible situation,” the chief said. “We’ve already talked to the prosecutor about this.”
The incident began when the officers pulled up behind a 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix near Gunston and Wade on the city’s east side, Craig said.
“There appeared to be no initial reason to stop the car,” Craig said. “Officers can investigate suspicious behavior, but if someone decides to evade them, under our policy you cannot pursue them.”
The chief said Bradford took off, eventually driving as fast as 100 mph as he careened through the streets.
“The officers chasing him reached speeds as high as 75 mph,” Craig said. “This was in a residential area, which is a direct violation of our policy.”
Assistant Chief Arnold Williams said the chase lasted several blocks. Williams said the officers did not initially activate their lights and siren, although they eventually turned them on.
Craig said: “At some point as the officers followed, there was a traffic violation. But we still can’t pursue for that.”
After a few minutes, “the officers lost sight of the vehicle and turned the lights off,” Williams said.
“The motorist ran a stop sign on Maiden and hit a silver Mercury,” the assistant chief said. “The (motorist) lost control and struck a tree.”
Medics who arrived pronounced Bradford dead near the intersection of Maiden and Park Drive, Williams said. The man in the Mercury suffered non-life-threatening injuries, he added.
About 50 people gathered on Maiden Street on Tuesday night in a vigil for Bradford.
Mariah Bartlett, girlfriend of the victim, called him “kindhearted.”
“He made sure his family came before anything,” Bartlett said. “He wanted to be a firefighter.”
Bartlett said he has a sister. His father was hospitalized with pneumonia, and his mother was having difficulty processing his death, Bartlett said..
“His mom is a Christian woman,” Bartlett said. “She’s trying to stay strong.”
Several eyewitnesses said that after the crash the officers continued on Maiden, circled back 10 minutes later and began asking people what happened.
Neighbor Brenda Smith said she witnessed the crash. “They didn’t have on their lights or sirens,” she said. “After he crashed the police kept driving. Then they came back and started asking what happened, like they didn’t know.”
Marquies Yeldell said he also saw the crash. “He hit the tree and wrapped his car around it."
Earlier Tuesday, Kenneth Reed, president of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said police chases have gotten out of hand.
“Those two officers should be suspended without pay and then terminated, if they tried to cover this thing up,” Reed said. “The message has to be sent that policy has to be followed. If you can’t follow policy, then go get a job doing something else.”
Police chases have been a heated topic since the August incident that resulted in Grimes’ death. In that case, three state troopers have been suspended, and MSP has temporarily stopped patrolling in the 9th Precinct, because officials said they want to avoid stoking animosity in the wake of the incident.
State police officials said Grimes was driving his ATV illegally in the street and did not comply with the troopers’ orders to stop. Trooper Mark Bessner allegedly shot the teen with his Taser. The teen lost control of his vehicle, slammed into a flatbed and died from blunt-force head trauma.
Both Detroit and state police are investigating the ATV incident. Three Detroit police sources told The Detroit News a state police sergeant is being investigated for allegedly throwing away one of the Taser wires from the scene.
Bessner resigned after the incident. His attorney has not replied to requests for comment.