Expert on High Speed Chases for Low Level Violations: ‘Let Them Go’

In Bloomington, police topped 90 miles per hour in a chase to nab a driver whose car had a missing license plate.

In nearby Eagan, an officer reached speeds up to 107 miles per hour in hopes of catching a driver wanted for shoplifting.

State troopers chased a car at 115 miles per hour after spotting an air-freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Over the last three years, law enforcement officers throughout Minnesota have overwhelmingly engaged in high-speed, high-risk chases for low-level offenses, a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation has found.

An examination of more than 700 court cases since 2016 shows police officers, deputies and Minnesota State Patrol troopers chased drivers for non-violent offenses 95 percent of the time.

The cases, which involved drivers who were convicted of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle at more than 50 mph, offer more detailed descriptions of why chases are initiated than the annual statistics provided by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Those findings have sparked criticism from a police training expert and the top prosecutor in Hennepin County. They say law enforcement jeopardizes public safety when it decides to engage in high-speed chases of drivers with low-level offenses.

This chase, on July 4, 2016, happened in the middle of the day and started over a failure to use a turn signal:

“If it’s not anything major, turn the lights and sirens off and let them go,” said David Schultz, the former director of the Minnesota Highway Research Center in St. Cloud. He trained officers on how to engage in high speed chases for more than 30 years.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says the findings are an indication of bad policy.

“I don’t like chases except in extraordinary circumstances and to me a shoplifting case, a bad license plate, a taillight out is no reason to have an extended chase,” he said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS started investigating high speed pursuits in June after a driver chased by state troopers crashed and struck three children at a playground near Jenny Lind Elementary School in Minneapolis.

That driver, Kabaar Powell, was chased because he had a revoked license and refused to pull over for speeding, according to court records.

The pursuit started on Interstate-94 near 46th avenue, wound through residential streets and topped 80 mph. 

The crash nearly killed three-year old Kayden Peltier who was on the playground that morning with his older sister, Lillie.

“I turned back to run after Kayden and Lillie but (the driver) was going way too fast and I was too late,” said Kyle Peltier, the children’s father.

Lillie fully recovered from her injuries, but Kayden, whose spinal cord was damaged, is still re-learning how to walk.

Peltier said he believes state troopers should have called off the pursuit.

“They had the license plate, they had the description of the guy,” he said. “I mean, go to his house.”

However, calling off a chase rarely happens, according to an analysis of court records.

That analysis found officers terminated their pursuit in less than one out of every five chases. In many cases, officers continued to pursue at more than 80, 90 and 100 mph, even as suspects blew through red lights, weaved into oncoming traffic and nearly hit other cars or pedestrians.

This chase, on June 20, 2016, initially started as the result of a vehicle theft in St. Anthony. The chase reached speeds of 90 miles per hour in a neighborhood:

Chases stretched from a few blocks in some cases to more than 20 miles and took place on metro interstates, county roads and neighborhood streets.

“I always used to say, ‘…chase them until hell freezes over,'” Schultz said.

But Schultz said his approach changed because too many people were dying. In 2010, he wrote a bulletin for the Federal Bureau of Investigation that stated law enforcement officers were engaging in too many pursuits.

“It’s not worth it to the bad guys, it’s not worth it to the general public, and it’s especially not worth it to the officers involved,” he said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS made multiple requests for an interview or a statement from the state patrol regarding the chase that ended on the playground and on its chase policy in general. A spokesperson for the agency denied the requests, but said it may comment as early as this week after the appeal window for Kabaar Powell closes.

Three Dead

In September, three people were killed outside Matt’s Bar in South Minneapolis by a teenage driver fleeing state troopers in a stolen car.

Troopers chased the driver from the Interstate 94 tunnel to Highway 55 and down Cedar Avenue. The fatal crash occurred shortly after the pursuit was terminated.

Schultz said officers should stop chasing if a PIT maneuver—a tactic that forces a fleeing car to turn sideways and stop—cannot be done right away.

“The individual will continue to run for about two miles, at which point in time they’re going to slow down so they don’t attract the attention of other officers,” Schultz said.

Across the metro and state, departmental chase policies vary. In Fridley, officers can only pursue drivers who have committed a violent crime or displayed dangerous driving conduct such as driving 50 miles per hour over the speed limit.

In Eagan, pursuits are terminated only if the level of danger outweighs the necessity for apprehension and if the suspect has been identified.

State troopers, who engage in the most pursuits given their statewide jurisdiction, have much more discretion. The policy states only that they should give “strong and continued consideration” to ending a pursuit if the suspect is involved in a misdemeanor or non-violent felony.

Yet, a review of court cases show troopers have continued to chase suspects at over 100 miles per hour for revoked licenses, broken headlights and tinted windows.

Kyle Peltier said the driver who injured his children was chased over a “petty” violation.

“He’s not a convicted murderer,” he said. “It was just so senseless.”