Law enforcement questions, Hennepin County Attorney explains decision to dismiss charges related to fatal MPD pursuit

Decision to drop police chase case questioned

Decision to drop police chase case questioned

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association on Monday questioned Hennepin County prosecutors’ decision to dismiss charges on Friday against the man suspected of leading police on a chase that turned fatal in 2021.

Leneal Frazier, who was driving in the area, was killed when then Minneapolis Police Officer Brian Cummings hit Frazier’s jeep while pursuing a suspected stolen vehicle in North Minneapolis. Cummings pleaded guilty to his role in the crash and was sentenced to 270 days in the Hennepin County Workhouse.

The trial for James Jones-Drain, now 20 years old, was scheduled for Monday before Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty’s office dismissed the case, which had accused him of auto theft and fleeing an officer, resulting in death. The court filing on Friday cited “an inability to prove all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt at this time.”

“Anytime you see a dismissal on a high profile case, you want to ask why,” said MPPOA general counsel Imran Ali on Monday.

“If I look at a criminal complaint in this particular case, you not only have multiple eyewitnesses, including Officer Cummings, you also have multiple surveillance footage that was looked at.”

Moriarty, sitting down for an interview following questions from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS and the interview with Ali on Monday, said that witnesses and surveillance video did provide evidence to suggest that Jones-Drain took the car, which days later, fled from Officer Brian Cummings.

Another video, according to the criminal complaint, showed Jones-Drain driving to and fleeing the scene of a robbery at a Subway in Northeast Minneapolis in the same car, hours before the chase.

Cell phone location data was also said to show his phone was generally “in areas consistent with the high-speed chase and crash,” the criminal complaint read.

But none of that, Moriarty said, could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jones-Drain was physically in the car as it fled, the charge that carried the most weight.

“So while we do have evidence that he took the car, that he was in it well before this, and that this was the car that was involved in some of these previous incidents, we have to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was actually driving the car at the time when Leneal Frazier’s car was struck,” Moriarty said.

“We just don’t have that proof right now.”

Jones-Drain remains in custody, and he faces separate charges for the string of robberies that led up to that chase and for illegally possessing a gun when he was later arrested.

“We’re going to see if we can try to settle those cases. But if we can’t, we’ll set it for trial,” Moriarty said.

“It’s not good enough because Mr. Frazier lost his life,” Ali said when asked for his thoughts on the remaining charges and the fact that Jones-Drain was still behind bars.

“When you look at all of the cases that he has pending, this case, in particular, is the one that carries the most penalty, because it’s a fleeing that results in a death,” Ali continued, adding, “It’s a case that should be tried, and it’s a case that should, if the state proves the case beyond a reasonable doubt, should result in a conviction, regardless of all of his other robberies that have been alleged or have been charged.”

Because Moriarty’s office dismissed the fleeing and auto theft charges before it went before a jury, she reserves the right to later re-charge Jones-Drain for the same or similar offenses. New evidence would have to surface before the charges could be considered.

Asked for the likelihood of that happening, Moriarty said, “Well, it’s hard to say. We are hoping that some additional evidence comes up in the future.”

Jones-Drain’s next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.