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Expert: Police Should Have Ended Chase

December 14, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — An expert who co-wrote a scholarly book about police chases testified Thursday that Wilkes-Barre and Hanover Twp. police should have broken off a dangerous pursuit that ended with a civilian being seriously hurt.

Swoyersville resident Donna Jackson is suing the municipalities over the Nov. 7, 2014, chase, which took place after Hanover Twp. police spotted a wanted man in a stolen car and tried to pull him over. Jackson alleges she suffered a traumatic brain injury and other injuries as a result of the “ill-advised and dangerous police chase.”

During the testimony during the civil trial Thursday, Dennis Kenney, a former police officer and professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, testified that the actions of the suspect, 56-year-old Douglas Johnson of Nanticoke, were “exceptionally dangerous” and should have prompted police to end the chase.

Police say Johnson — who was later sentenced to eight to 16 years in prison — sped through yards and sidewalks, and went the wrong way on one-way streets before crashing at River and West Market streets in Wilkes-Barre.

“The need for immediate apprehension comes nowhere near the risk (to) the public and even the police,” Kenney said during questioning by plaintiff’s attorney Neil T. O’Donnell.

Studies show that most suspects fleeing the police will slow down soon after police end the chase, he said. In a case such as Johnson’s, where police believe they know the identity of the fleeing suspect, investigators can track the offender down afterward to avoid a dangerous chase, he said.

“The overwhelming majority of suspects will discontinue that reckless behavior and blend back in to traffic,” Kenney said.

Earlier in the day, jurors saw deposition video in which Wilkes-Barre police officer Chris Benson testified Johnson was acting “crazy throughout the whole pursuit” and that he was concerned for everyone’s safety.

That information was not relayed to his supervisor, now-Detective Christopher Maciejczyk, although Maciejczyk testified that he “would have continued the pursuit” anyway.

Kenney said after reviewing the case he believes police from both municipalities were inadequately trained about conducting police chases and were not properly supervised during the effort to catch Johnson. The police also violated their own general orders by chasing Johnson with more than two cars, he said.

“Those violations directly led to the accident,” Kenney said.

Attorney James A. Doherty Jr., representing the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, noted that Kenney, who lives in Washington, D.C., only drove the route of the chase for the first time Wednesday. He also ensured jurors were aware that the plaintiff was paying him $1,800 to appear in court — on top of the $250 per hour fee he charged during roughly 30 hours of preparation.

Doherty questioned Kenney on the practicality of police not chasing the criminals they are paid to catch.

“If they believe the police will not pursue ... would you agree with me that they’re not going to give up?” Doherty asked.

“That would be generally true,” Kenney said.

Testimony is scheduled to continue today.

Contact the writer:

jhalpin@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2058

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