Detroit police officers involved in a 2015 high-speed chase of a parole absconder that left two children dead and several others injured are being sued.
A lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for relatives of Makiah and Michaelangelo Jackson as well as three youths and an adult hurt when Lorenzo Harris drove his car nearly 100 mph through an east side neighborhood in an attempt to elude officers. It lists the city of Detroit and three 5th Precinct Special Operations officers who were in the cruiser on June 24, 2015: Richard Billingslea, Steven Fultz and Hakeem Patterson.
Their unit, known as the Scout 5-36 crew, was patrolling in a marked cruiser when Billingslea, the driver, spotted a red Camaro, he wrote in a report on the incident. Fultz then “allegedly witnessed one of the vehicle occupants brandishing a black, semiautomatic handgun” before the car sped off, according to the lawsuit. The scout car did not have a working video camera, the suit says.
In reports, police estimated the Camaro sped up to 100 mph as it whipped down Munich, eventually turning north on Nottingham, a residential neighborhood where the Jackson children and others were in their front yard.
Billingslea wrote that his crew lost sight of the vehicle and slowed down to terminate the chase. But in the lawsuit, attorney Solomon Radner alleges the officers so closely trailed the Camaro that their cruiser “bumped the rear ... and caused it to spin out of control.”
The Camaro struck Makiah, 3, and her brother, Michaelangelo, 6, authorities said. Police placed the girl in a scout car and rushed her to nearby St. John Hospital and Medical Center, where doctors told them she would not survive. Her brother also died in the crash.
Radner’s suit asserts the Camaro “continued to careen down the street until striking a minivan nearly a block away,” seriously injuring three other children and a woman. One of the youths was airlifted to a hospital in Ann Arbor after his lungs collapsed.
Billingslea and Patterson chased the suspect, Lorenzo Harris, through backyards and fields, apprehending him four blocks away. In 2016, Harris was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and other charges.
The lawsuit asserts the officers disregarded a Detroit Police Department policy on pursuits that says such chases should end when “there is clear and present danger to the public which outweighs the need for immediate apprehension of the violator.”
By not heeding that, the officers chased the car through a densely populated residential neighborhood at high speeds, “thereby causing the Camaro to spin out of control and proximately and/or directly causing Plaintiffs’ injuries and deaths,” the suit says.
Reached Friday night, city spokesman John Roach said he would not comment on pending litigation. Detroit police representatives said the same.
The lawsuit seeks $75,000, exclusive of costs, interest and attorney fees, as well as an award of punitive damages.