FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The chase was on: A teenager driving a stolen dark SUV led the cops across the city and down I-95, hitting a bicyclist on the street, striking commuters’ cars on the highway and shutting down morning traffic for nearly three hours.
Just a few weeks earlier, a 25-year-old man died after leading Miramar police on a chase that began when the man sped through a neighborhood. The car, later going about 100 mph, spun and rolled over, striking light poles, a concrete barrier and fire hydrant. It burst into flames.
Both cases highlight the gamble the police take every time they make the crucial decision to value a suspect’s arrest over the potential danger to the public that comes with a high-speed chase. The police are given broad discretion with chases: They may begin pursuits if they believe their suspect committed or tried to commit a felony. The act of fleeing police is already a felony.
The circumstances of Wednesday’s police chase remain under review in Fort Lauderdale, including whether officers were justified in starting to chase the teen. “This pursuit will go through our standard review process, as do all pursuits,” said Casey Liening, a Fort Lauderdale police spokeswoman. “We cannot prematurely comment on the justification of a pursuit until all the facts are gathered and this review is completed.”
Miramar police also review their pursuits to ensure policies were followed. The specifics of the review of the April 29 case weren’t available Friday night.
‘A lot of factors’ to consider
Police chase policies should reflect a delicate balance between the danger of the chase and the need to get the suspect into custody, said Dennis Kenney, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College in New York. “The risk is calculated by a lot of factors,” he said.
The nature of the underlying offense is crucial, he said. A violent felon would be worth pursuing more than a shoplifter. But timing and location also are among the most important factors to consider.
“Is it a residential neighborhood just after school let out?” He said. “Or is it an empty highway at 3 in the morning?”
Even car thefts have nuances, he said.
“Was it a violent carjacking that took place moments earlier, or did the officer run the plates because the car was speeding?”
Those details were not available in the Fort Lauderdale chase. That driver hit multiple cars before slamming into a guardrail and flipping over. Fort Lauderdale police say they are reviewing the chase of the teen driver, as they do in all police chases, to see if policy was followed.
On the day of the chase, police were called to a home in Fort Lauderdale because a group of kids were trying to steal a car from the caller’s garage, said Casey Liening, a police spokeswoman. The kids — a 12-year-old, two 14-year-olds and two 16-year-olds — raced off in what police would later learn was a car reported as stolen out of Miami-Dade County. Liening would not say the age of the driver.
Police came across the car full of kids and attempted to get the driver to stop, Liening said. The driver refused to pull over.
The officer pulled back and called the Broward Sheriff’s Office, requesting its helicopter to track the youths, Lieing said. As the teen driver continued to flee, he struck a man on a bicycle.
From this point, Fort Lauderdale police no longer were holding back: They were in full pursuit along with Florida Highway Patrol troopers. Fort Lauderdale police called the Florida Highway Patrol for assistance. For 10 miles, the teen raced down the interstate with police and highway patrol on his tail.
Aerial footage from a TV news crew captured the chase and the chaos. The driver was in the left lane of southbound traffic when he darted across multiple lance of traffic, presumably to get off at the Pembroke Pines exit. As he was crossing the lanes of traffic, he hit several cars before slamming into the guardrail and flipping over.
One of those motorists at the scene was clearly rattled by the chase and accident. Sharon Glueck said the impact spun her car and when she stopped she saw police and troopers with their guns drawn on the toppled car.
Lt. Yanko Reyes, of the Highway Patrol, said the chase was justified because of the attempted auto theft.
Deciding when to chase
The Broward Sheriff’s Office — the agency that provides police services for many cities, towns and unincorporated areas across the county — does not authorize a pursuit in cases of stolen cars or burglaries. But pursuits are permitted in cases where the deputy has reason to believe the driver has committed [or is committing] a violent felony, or the driver has breached a secure checkpoint in a secure area, such as Port Everglades, for example.
Fort Lauderdale also does not allow a pursuit for burglary to an unoccupied vehicle unless authorized by a lieutenant or above. It also does not allow for chases for theft, traffic offenses and suspicious vehicles.
Its policy requires one of the following be met: The officer has a reasonable belief that the fleeing suspect committed or attempted to commit a forcible felony. Or, the officer has a reasonable belief that pursuing a fleeing car is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to any person.
The police departments’ policies each acknowledge the potential danger of police pursuits.
The Miramar Police Department policy says the decision to chase must be based on the officer’s conclusion the immediate danger to the public by a chase is less than the danger if the fleeing subject is allowed to remain at large.
It says the follow three conditions must be met:
- There is cause to believe that the fleeing suspect committed or attempted to commit a felony. This felony must involves a threat or physical force or violence to a person.
- The suspect, if allowed to flee, would present danger to the public.
- The necessity of immediate apprehension outweighs the danger created by the pursuit.
A supervisor must be notified before an officer can give chase.
Tania Rues, a spokeswoman for Miramar police, said the police didn’t start out chasing the speeding driver in the April 29 case. She said a stretch of Hallandale Beach Boulevard has been having a rash of crashes because of speeders.
Police said an officer was waiting to catch speeders when Everette Orette Brown flew past in the 2011 Mercedes-Benz. Police gave chase, attempting to get Brown to pull over. He refused.
Rues said officers were about 20 seconds behind Brown when Brown struck a pedestrian. From that point, they sped up trying to stop him before he hit anyone else. “Officers had an obligation to stop him,” Rue said.
But Brown kept going at speeds estimated at 100 mph. He lost control of the Mercedes in Pembroke Park when he attempted to maneuver around traffic.
This was not the first time Brown had tried to flee police. In 2015, he was arrested by the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office for trying to avoid police, who had their lights and sirens activated. He pleaded guilty to the charge, a third-degree felony.