Bill that would limit hot pursuits dies in House committee

Bill that would limit hot pursuits dies in House committee
Terry Road Community Church was damaged following a hot pursuit. (Source: WLBT)

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson’s efforts to curb police chases coming into the capital city have fallen flat this year at the Mississippi legislature.

The city had included a request for the change as part of its 2021 legislative agenda.

The mayor and other city officials have been critical of police chases in recent years, which endanger lives and property.

“As we know, we’ve seen many, many years of police chases into our city, some of which have been initiated for crimes that were really based on property issues of low value,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.

“I myself almost got hit by a police chase near the Jason’s Deli area, and they were chasing a guy who supposedly stole some earrings from Walmart,” he said. “If it’s over small property issues, they shouldn’t have high-speed chases.”

The bill, which was authored by District 65 Rep. Christopher Bell, would have required law enforcement agencies across the state to develop and implement a “written vehicle response policy governing the procedures under which a police officer should initiate, continue and terminate a motor vehicle pursuit.”

The measure would have also required those policies to prohibit pursuits for anything other than carjacking, murder, aggravated assault, or robbery.

Bell was not immediately available for comment, and Lumumba could not be reached. Council President Aaron Banks said he did not have a comment.

Rev. Edward James, the pastor of Terry Road Community Church, is disappointed the measure won’t see the light of day.

“This young man, he didn’t have any tickets. They just didn’t see a tag on his car,” he said. “That doesn’t excuse him from running. But I would say they should have backed off after the chase got up to 80 or 90 miles per hour.

“There’s a danger in it. They could have run into someone’s house and killed them.”

Rev. James speaks during a church service, after his church was damaged by a driver being pursued by police.
Rev. James speaks during a church service, after his church was damaged by a driver being pursued by police. (Source: WLBT)

The suspect was Javonte Smith. Brandon police attempted to pull over the 18-year-old for erratic driving and for not having a license plate. When the teen didn’t pull over, police gave chase.

Eventually, the Pearl and Richland departments joined in, as Miles allegedly led officers along I-20 and then I-55 South to Daniel Lake Boulevard exit. The crash ended after the vehicle plowed into the church building.

Miles was later released on bond. No further details on the Miles case were available. Officials with Brandon Municipal Court were not immediately available for comment.

“As far as Brandon is concerned, I’ve heard nothing from them in regard to an apology from the chief,” James said. “They called me that night, at about 2 a.m. The officer that was in charge at the time said the young man would be responsible for all the damages ... an 18-year-old guy with no insurance. That’s how it was left.”

Brandon Chief William Thompson said the case was still active and could not comment.

Open record requests from five Jackson suburbs show that 63 police chases that began in outside jurisdictions ended in the capital city in 2020 alone.

Of those, records show the majority began as a result of traffic violations or other misdemeanors.

City where chase originated Police chases into Jackson How many were traffic violations or misdemeanors
Pearl 27 16
Ridgeland 14 9
Richland 12 7
Madison 7 3
Flowood 3 2

Other chases began for more serious matters, including several where tag readers determined vehicles had been stolen. In another case, a suspect was fleeing from a bank, and in another, a suspect led police on a chase after threatening to kill himself.

An October 16 chase began when officers determined the suspect had stolen a truck and cattle trailer from Crystal Springs. That suspect, who has yet to be identified, led police and sheriff’s deputies on a chase from Florence into the capital city, where he eventually crashed the vehicle on Robinson Road.

Florence police had spotted the suspect driving the stolen truck in the Eaglewood subdivision. They attempted to pull him over and he fled. During the chase, he t-boned an elderly couple in Richland and wrecked at least two other vehicles.

Richland continued the chase into Jackson, which ended at Robinson Road and Eastview Street. The suspect ran away and was not immediately apprehended. Other law enforcement agencies participated in the pursuit but called off the chase when it went into Jackson.

Pursuits that cross jurisdictional lines are allowed in the state. However, law enforcement agencies must adopt policies to handle chases.

Code Section 45-1-43, for instance, states that agencies that conduct pursuits “shall adopt written policies and training procedures that set forth the manner in which these operations shall be conducted.”

The law goes on to state that policies “must address situations in which police pursuits cross over into other jurisdictions,” and that those law enforcement agencies that do not comply with the requirement are subject to losing state funding.

Brandon Police Department, for instance, has a policy that requires officers to notify communications when it is likely to cross into neighboring jurisdictions. When entering those jurisdictions, officers will be governed by the policies of their agency, interlocal agreements, and state law.

The Richland Police Department policy requires officers to obtain authorization from their supervisors before pursuing individuals into other jurisdictions.

Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal said pursuits are also evaluated by the department afterward to determine whether officers involved followed proper procedures.

“It’s a tough balance determining when to pursue and when not to,” Neal said. “If officers turn on their blue lights, they run, and we turn them off, we’d be overrun by crime. (Suspects) would know that all they’d have to do is accelerate and they won’t be pursued.”

Ridgeland policy typically includes allows officers to give chase if conditions are safe and to continue the pursuit until drivers can be identified.

Officers who violate procedure face disciplinary action and must participate in additional training.

“We look at each pursuit. The supervisor, then the patrol commander, to critique it; then it goes to the assistant chief and then to me,” he said.

Of the 27 total chases that were reported by the department in calendar year 2020, administrative reviews determined that officers in three cases needed additional training.

In one case, officers were on routine patrol when they observed a vehicle with a paper tag and nonfunctional tag light.

Police pulled the suspects over and determined that the driver was unlicensed, and a female passenger had an outstanding warrant.

The officer and backup directed the suspects to exit the vehicle when the driver put the car in gear and drove away heading south on the I-55 frontage road.

Authorities pursued the individuals into Jackson, as the suspect “reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour,” with the suspect weaving through traffic, according to police documents.

The chase was called off when the suspect exited the interstate at Northside Drive.

Upon further review, the patrol commander determined the chase was unwarranted because the suspects had been identified. All officers involved were referred to the training division for remediation, documents show.

Another bill governing pursuits authored by District 68 Rep. Zakiya Summers, also died in committee.

The measure, H.B. 298, would have required law enforcement agencies to adopt written pursuit policies and would have denied state or state-administered federal funding for failure to do so.

As for James, he is helping his small congregation to continue to pick up the pieces. So far, between $25,000 and $30,000 has been raised for the rebuilding effort, an amount that also included gifts from Bishop Ronnie Crudup and Eddie James Ministries.

“The only thing we’ve been able to do with the funds ... was to rebrick the side of the building where he came in,” he said. “We were able to get that done and I’ve got to put up some flowers.”

Sunday services continue to go on in the parking lot, something that began as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even amid the struggles, James said he keeps looking up. “God is good. In light of these times ... we’re holding on and maintaining the faith that God is going to something for us.”

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