Investigator: Police break high-speed chase rules

9:28 PM, Feb 5, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- The police department updated its high-speed chase policy two years ago, but Attorney General Mike DeWine today said that the new-and-improved policy "failed" officers when they needed it most.

Reviewing his report on the 22-minute chase that left two suspects dead on Nov. 29, DeWine said that it was clear police ignored the policy almost every step of the way.

"Clearly, officers misinterpreted facts. They failed to follow established rules," DeWine said. "But when you have an emergency, like what happened that night, the system has to be strong enough to override subjective decisions made by individuals who are under extreme stress. The system has to take over and put on the brakes," he said.

The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation found that even though Cleveland's high-speed pursuit policy limits the number of police vehicles involved in a pursuit to two, there were a total of 62 cruisers pursuing suspects Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

Fifty-nine of those cars violated policy by not having a supervisor's permission to join the chase, DeWine said.

"It's beyond reasonable -- it's so unreasonable, it's off the charts,"  attorney David Malik said.

The state found that Sgt. Randolph Dailey, the officer in charge of the pursuit, had no idea what was going on. He thought only three police cars were chasing the suspects.

Dailey, who was monitoring the chase by radio, told investigators that he was out of uniform and had to get dressed after the chase started, according to interview notes released by the Attorney General's Office. Then, when he tried to join the chase, Dailey said he got lost several times.

"Sgt. Dailey stated he is unfamiliar with the area where the pursuit was currently and that he looked up and down every side street in the area in an effort to locate the pursuit," the interview notes read.

By the time Dailey caught up, the chase was over.

"Without anyone assuming overall control, there is no way for this policy to be followed," DeWine said.

Police in the chase sought to have the department helicopter join the pursuit, Dewine said. But cops in cars were told by dispatch: "No chopper." The pilots who drive the helicopters weren't on duty that night.

Officers also asked for strip spikes, which are used to stop a fleeing car by puncturing its tires. A supervisor responded: "That's negative. I think our last set broke about three years ago."

The state said the large number of police vehicles also created a crossfire situation once the suspects were stopped at the Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland. As a result, police were shooting at each other, the attorney general said.

"It is, quite frankly, a miracle that no law enforcement officer was killed," said DeWine.

Poor radio communication didn't help matters either. The attorney general found that pursuing officers were on different channels, getting mixed signals from a variety of officers. The state found multiple supervisors failed to inform Dailey, who was supposed to be in charge, about the number of vehicles chasing the suspects.

"DeWine found it was a systemic failure," said criminal defense attorney Dan Chaplin. "Now's the time to have the entire system examined."


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