York police pursuit review could lead to more training

05/16/2014 8:13 PM

05/17/2014 1:07 PM

After York Police Department officials found that a high-speed chase last month used excessive speeds and put the public at unreasonable risk, York City Manager Charlie Helms says the department may soon be retraining its officers.

Helms said Friday he’s talked with training officers and a police captain about the appropriate action and there’s already a response “in the works.”

York’s police policy on car chases is sound, Helms said. If any changes are made, Helms plans to share the revisions with the public.

Last month, top police officials found that the April chase was “careless” and dangerous within minutes of its start, according to internal review documents obtained this week by The Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The pursuit started around 12:10 p.m. on April 4 in York when authorities were led to a stolen car by OnStar officials who used in-car satellite technology to track the suspect’s location.

Initially, one York officer began to chase the suspected car thief, who was later identified in police reports as Jacob Floyd Bailey, 29, of Marietta.

The officer chased Bailey for nearly seven minutes as the pursuit left York city limits and headed toward Rock Hill, reports state. The initial chase ended after the officer lost sight of the stolen car for nearly two minutes on S.C. 901.

York County Sheriff’s deputies picked up the chase about five minutes later in a neighborhood just outside Rock Hill city limits. There, authorities say Bailey tried to hit a deputy in his vehicle head-on with the stolen car.

As deputies chased Bailey back toward York on S.C. 5, York Police Chief Andy Robinson joined the pursuit. Deputies and Robinson pursued Bailey for nearly 12 minutes before he pulled over and police arrested him, department records show.

York Police say there were at least three critical points in the chase when officers should have stopped pursuing Bailey on busy roads.

When Robinson joined the chase, he became the supervisor for York officers involved in the pursuit, according to a review written by Helms, the city manager.

Robinson should have realized that officers were not properly calling in their speeds during the chase and they were outside their police jurisdiction while following a car with OnStar tracking technology, Helms wrote.

The chief’s actions during the chase, Helms wrote, violated York Police policy and Robinson “failed to balance the need for the suspect’s apprehension with the potential danger” to officers and the community.

Helms’ review only cites concerns over Robinson’s actions but internal review documents show that other officers broke these department rules during the chase:

•  By reaching speeds of 137 miles per hour during the chase, York officers engaged in a pursuit that was more dangerous than the possible risk of letting the suspect go, wrote York Police Capt. Brian Trail. York’s pursuit policy calls for immediately ending a chase if continuing poses more danger to the public than the risk of letting the suspect get away.
•  At one point during the pursuit, the stolen car was out of sight for nearly two minutes but the officer continued to drive more than 100 mph in an effort to catch up. Continuing a high-speed chase of a suspect after losing sight of the car for nearly two minutes violated policy, Trail wrote. The department’s pursuit policy states that officers must immediately end a chase if they lose sight of the suspect car for more than 15 seconds.
•  Officers failed to report to dispatch and supervisors their speeds during the chase, review documents show. “This is required in policy and, if given out, could have possibly resulted in the termination of the pursuit,” wrote York Police Lt. Michael Keith Wills.

Police chased a car thief through congested areas, putting “innocent persons and property” at risk, Wills wrote.

Though the pursuit resulted in an arrest and returning the car to its owner, Wills wrote, “there were many opportunities for disaster that would have resulted in liability to the police department and officers involved.”

Video footage of the chase shows that one officer passed more than 150 cars during the pursuit while he was driving more than 100 mph. “That’s 150 families that could have been affected,” Trail wrote.

In addition to remarks about the high speeds, the internal review uncovered a lack of oversight by York Police supervisors who gave “no clear instructions ... to two rookie officers,” wrote York Police Lt. Rich Caddell.

Review documents note that one of those two officers accelerated to nearly 100 mph inside York city limits even though the chase was already close to Rock Hill. He was never told to stay in York, Caddell wrote, but the officer should have been told not to join the pursuit.

Later, that officer entered the opposite lane of travel on S.C. 901 which could have caused a fatal accident, Caddell wrote.

The other recently hired officer also tried to join the chase when he “should have recognized that there was no way that he was going to be of any assistance” because he was far behind the pursuit, Trail wrote. That officer failed to use his emergency lights and sirens during the entire pursuit, Trail wrote, and drove with only one hand on the steering wheel the majority of the time.

York Mayor Pro-Tem Charles Johnson said he doesn’t think the April 4 chase should prompt any changes to police policies.

“They have a policy, as long as the chief goes by the rules, that’s it,” he said. “Just do what the policy says, no more or no less.”

Still, York Mayor Eddie Lee has said the chase “endangered the lives of officers and scores of innocent citizens” and was “excessive and reckless.” Lee has said the police department’s policy is sufficient but officers did not abide the policy on April 4.

Spartanburg solicitor handling SLED case

The arrest stemming from the chase became the subject of a State Law Enforcement Division review last month concerning whether Chief Robinson rightfully used force against Bailey. Video of the arrest raises questions about whether Robinson steps on Bailey after he’s handcuffed and lying on the ground.

The 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office of Spartanburg and Cherokee counties is reviewing the SLED file. Officials say there’s no timeline for the solicitor to make a decision.

After his release from the York County Detention Center on April 5, Bailey was arrested May 6 in Spartanburg on charges of armed robbery, petty larceny and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, according to police records. He and another man are accused of robbing a man at gunpoint for Oxycontin medicine, according to a Spartanburg County Sheriff’s report. His bond was set at $102,000.

Bailey also is awaiting trial on an October 2013 attempted murder charge in Greenville County, court records show.

South Carolina probation officials have issued warrants on Bailey accusing him of violating his probation, officials said on Friday. But, he may not be arrested for violating probation unless he’s convicted on new charges.

If that probation is revoked, he will be sentenced to three years in prison – the original sentence he received in 2012 when he was convicted of failure to stop for a blue light and obtaining prescription drugs by fraud, said Pete O’Boyle, spokesman for the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

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