Veteran trooper says he would have halted police chase that ended in fatal Durham crash
The risks of continuing a police chase through Durham in August began to outweigh the reward of capturing a fleeing carjacker after several minutes, according to a veteran State Highway Patrol trooper, who says he would have stopped the pursuit at that point.
The Aug. 2 chase ended in a crash at the intersection of Club Boulevard and North Duke Street that killed Brooke Lyn Maynard, 24, an off-duty Durham County detention officer and the mother of a young child.
“The longer a chase goes on, the chances of it ending badly increase,” Wellington Scott said Wednesday as he watched videos of the chase recorded by dashboard and body-worn cameras of Durham police officers involved. “Now you see, while the traffic is not heavy, the recklessness of the driver is beginning to increase.”
Scott retired after 29 years with the Highway Patrol and now serves as chief operating officer of the National Command and Staff College, which provides leadership development programs for law enforcement.
Officers were trying to stop a Honda Accord that had been reported stolen at gunpoint from Alston Avenue earlier in the day. The driver sped off and was chased by police for about 11 minutes, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights and driving the wrong way down one-way streets. The chase reached speeds of 80 mph as it wound through downtown Durham and nearby neighborhoods.
“Pursuits are very dynamic,” Scott said. “The conditions change as you go along. You have to always be ready to make split-second decisions.”
He credited the four officers who took part in the chase – rookies T. Feren and L.N. Sprinkle, who were driving the two patrol cars, and training officers R.L. Gurley and C.A. Garcia – for their communication with each other and with dispatch, honking before they go through intersections – in addition to using their lights and sirens – and slowing at stop signs.
“There are a lot of good things they’re doing in this chase,” he said. “The officers are calm. They are following procedure.”
As the chase continues, Scott said, the fleeing suspect is driving more recklessly. He said he would have called off the chase after about six minutes, when the Accord started going the wrong-way down a one-way Ramseur Street downtown.
“That’s where it gets bad. That’s where you see that person is willing to risk anything to elude arrest,” he said.
″[Going] 80 mph in an urban area is pretty tough,” he added. “I don’t want to cast a negative shadow on these officers. They’re trying to fulfill their duty. But 80 mph, that’s fast.”
Durham police have declined to comment since a judge ordered the release of the videos on Monday. But officials have previously said that the officers involved didn’t violate any policy. The chase was warranted, they said, because the suspects were believed to be violent offenders.
The pursuit policy of the Durham Police Department limits chases to instances where police think the fleeing driver has committed a violent felony and that the nature of suspected crime poses a threat to the public or other officers. Chases are not allowed for non-violent crimes, impaired driving or if the driver is identified and can be arrested at a later date. Forcible stops are allowed in “extraordinary circumstances,” according to policy, but stationary roadblocks are the preferred method to bring a chase to a halt.
“We’re Monday morning quarterbacking, so to speak,” Scott said. “The one thing that we must remember is that these officers were acting under authority – they had the authority to do what they were doing – and the other thing is they were within policy.”
The ultimate responsibility for the chase lies with the fleeing driver, he said.
Tomaris Lamont Parker, 33, of Durham, is charged with second-degree murder, felony death by vehicle, failure to stop at a red light and eluding arrest in a motor vehicle causing a death. He remains in the county jail under a $2 million bond.
Deshon Carrington, who police said was in the stolen Honda at the time, is charged with felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle. he remains in jail under a $100,000 bond.
“It’s a selfish thing when that person decides to elude arrest because they are putting the public at risk, they are putting the officers who are pursuing them at risk, and lastly, they’re putting themselves at risk,” Scott said.
Although he agrees the Durham officers were within policy, he still said they had the discretion to end the chase at any time.
“There’s always officer discretion, and when you see that this person is willing to take so many risks, knowing what’s going on, sometimes you have to weigh risk versus reward and the possibility of us getting this person at a later time,” he said. “I never heard that consideration in the audio, that maybe we should stop this, but always remember, you have that option.”