Craig: Fatal traffic pursuit shouldn’t have happened

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

A police pursuit in which an uninvolved motorist was killed on Detroit’s west side never should have happened, Chief James Craig said Friday.

Speaking at a news conference, Craig said “as many as four or five violations” of department policy occurred during the incident, which included two separate pursuits involving three Detroit police cars.

“Pursuits are dangerous,” the chief said.

Suspensions and retraining are possible for the officers involved, Craig said, adding it’s “a little too premature” to say what will happen.

The chief gave an account of Thursday’s events during the news conference.

A 25-year veteran officer on traffic duty pulled over an orange and black Dodge Charger about 8 a.m. at Grand River and the Southfield Freeway service drive. The officer recognized the driver from an incident a week earlier, when the 27-year-old offered false information before driving off, Craig said.

The motorist, accompanied by a 16-year-old girl, was “making furtive movements” when the officer approached, according to the chief. The man pulled away and headed south on the Southfield Freeway, reaching speeds of 100 mph, Craig said.

The officer gave chase, which Craig said lasted “eight or nine minutes,” before a supervisor told him to end the pursuit, which he did, the chief said.

An officer driving a second Detroit police car in the area, which was on the same radio frequency as the first car, then saw the Charger and gave chase, according to Craig. Police do not know whether the second pursuit began because of how the Charger was driving or because officers heard about the first incident over the radio system.

That pursuit was relatively brief, though it lasted long enough for a second, unmarked DPD vehicle to join the chase, even overtaking the first car at one point.

The chase briefly extended into the east side of Dearborn before police stopped pursuit.

Soon afterward, at Greenfield and Elmira, the Charger hit a 2008 Lincoln. The driver of the Lincoln died, and police are trying to reach the driver's family for identification.

The driver of the Charger was arrested; he had an outstanding warrant for a parole violation for a concealed weapons charge, Craig said.

The 16-year-old girl was treated at a local hospital, but Craig did not know her status.

The officers involved in the second pursuit did not advise dispatch they were giving chase, though they did turn on lights and sirens, the chief said.

Supervisors never told either vehicle in the second pursuit to cut off their chase, the chief said.

Unmarked police cars are not permitted to take part in pursuits, Craig said, naming that as one of several policy violations that occurred.

Police are still investigating the crash and the conduct of officers in the pursuit, he said.

Detroit police officers are only to engage in pursuits when a felony has been, is being, or is about to be committed, according to department policy. A minor traffic violation and furtive movements does not qualify, Craig said.

“Vehicle pursuits shall not be conducted in such a manner as to recklessly endanger the lives of officers and/or citizens,” reads one section of the DPD policy on vehicular pursuits.

The two pursuits Thursday are among 117 by Detroit police officers in 2015, Craig said. That compares with 124 in 2014 and 97 in 2013.

Craig said the department was offering “prayers and condolences” for the victim.

“We do feel sorry for what happened,” he said.