Photo: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
Photo: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.
Tommy Wiita & Callan Gray
Updated: October 22, 2021 10:38 PM
Created: October 22, 2021 09:59 AM
Court records show Brian Cummings has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide after crashing his squad car into a vehicle, causing the death of Frazier.
“I miss my dad,” said Lanesha Frazier, his oldest daughter. “I’m devastated that he’s not even here.”
She learned of the charges against Cummings through the news, describing it as “the best surprise.” Family members told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they did not hear from the Hennepin County Attorney's Office on Friday.
“I felt proud because this is what he needed,” she said. “Relief because I really didn’t think he would be charged. I'm happy and I’m glad that he got charged.”
Frazier’s brother, Orlando, described it as a weight being lifted from their shoulders. Now, they want to see Cummings convicted of both charges.
“They took a king away from us over something that was very, very petty and then they didn’t even catch the person, come on,” he said. “They need to make an example out of him.”
On July 6 at about 12:30 a.m., Cummings was pursuing the driver of a stolen vehicle in north Minneapolis when his marked squad car slammed into the driver's side of Frazier's Jeep, at nearly 80 miles per hour. Injuries Frazier sustained as a result of the crash were the cause of his death, the complaint states.
"Police are supposed to protect and serve citizens, and to act in a manner consistent with their sworn oath to do so," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement. "Officer Cummings' actions deviated from his oath and his negligence caused the death of Leneal Frazier. These charges are appropriate based on the thorough investigation conducted. I hope the victim's family and loved ones find some solace in knowing we are doing everything we can to get justice for Mr. Frazier."
Freeman said he believes it is the first time in his career his office has criminally charged a police officer following a deadly chase.
"I'm not saying you can't start a pursuit. I'm not saying you can't take steps to try to apprehend people, but you've got to use reasonable conduct," Freeman said. "We give them [law enforcement] authority to drive cars faster than you and I should ever drive them, but that authority is not unlimited."
According to the criminal complaint, the day of the crash, Cummings saw a Kia Sportage matching the description of a stolen vehicle suspected to be involved in several non-violent thefts from businesses. The officer attempted to initiate a traffic stop but was unable to do so. The driver of the Kia sped off, and Cummings pursued the vehicle in his marked squad car with sirens and lights activated, the complaint says.
The chase continued for more than 20 blocks through north Minneapolis, including through residential neighborhoods.
At high speeds — at or approaching 100 miles per hour — Cummings followed the Kia through numerous stop signs, red lights and partially obstructed intersections, many of which blocked the view of approaching vehicles, the complaint states. While he pursued the Kia northbound on Lyndale Avenue North, and just before reaching the intersection of 41st Avenue North and Lyndale Avenue North, Cummings was driving at 90 miles per hour. According to the complaint, at that speed, it takes about 337 feet to come to a complete stop, necessary to avoid any crashes or incidents.
The posted speed limit in that area is 25 miles per hour.
As the pursuit continued, Frazier's Jeep was entering the intersection on a green light, which gave him the right of way. The Kia and Cummings both had a red light as the Kia drove through the intersection at nearly 100 miles per hour, "barely" missing Frazier's Jeep, the complaint states. Cummings' squad car entered the intersection against the red light and hit Frazier's Jeep on the driver's side.
Following the fatal crash, accident reconstruction compiled through technology found in Cummings' squad car and area surveillance video shows that Cummings hit Frazier's vehicle at about 78 miles per hour. Frazier's Jeep was going about 25 miles per hour at the time of the crash.
In addition, accident reconstruction further determined that, "This collision can be attributed to the Defendant (Cummings) for failure to operate his vehicle with due regard for the safety of other motorists."
“We want justice and we got it, and we’re going to keep on fighting until he’s locked up," said Frazier’s mother,Jacqueline Jackson.
Tom Plunkett, who is representing Cummings, said his client was pursuing a suspect in a “violent carjacking” and that the occupants had been “on a crime spree, a practice that has unfortunately become too common in Minneapolis.”
Jeff Storms, the attorney representing Frazier's family, commended the Hennepin County Attorney's Office for the charging decision.
"Despite my many disagreements with Hennepin County on various lawsuits, I can say, in this instance, they should be commended for having the courage to bring these charges," Storms said. "They are clearly strong charges and they're charges that really reflect how egregious the conduct was here."
Storms said it marks an "important step" toward justice for Frazier and his family but noted more needs to be done.
"There are a number of pieces to the puzzle for all of this. Part of it is having better policies, policies that ensure the safety of innocent civilians and only result in high-speed pursuits that are absolutely necessary to protect other lives," Storms said.
Freeman also called for policy reform, issuing a memo Friday, asking law enforcement agencies across the state to make "immediate changes" to police pursuit policies. The memo reads in part:
"The pursuit policies of law enforcement agencies across Minnesota are inadequate and do not do enough to protect human life. They allow officers to initiate dangerous pursuits in situations where it simply is not critical for public safety to pursue wrongdoers at high speeds."
Freeman noted there were 3,109 reported pursuit incidents in 2020, stating, "Only 7.88% of those reported pursuit incidents were initiated because of a felony offense. It is unacceptable that most police pursuits are initiated because of something other than a felony offense. Police departments must reserve pursuits only for cases involving violent felony offenses."
He said, while his role as county attorney does not give him authority over police policy, he felt compelled to voice his concerns.
"Sometimes the policies are so poorly done that I need to get involved. I've tried to informally and behind the scenes get involved to improve the policy and it simply has not worked, so it is time in this case, which is as egregious as any I've seen, to do something about it and I have," Freeman said.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the Minneapolis Police Department for a response to Freeman's statements but has not heard back yet. The department also cited Minnesota Data Practices laws in response to questions about whether Cummings is still employed at MPD or if he was disciplined following this incident.
Cummings' first appearance in court is scheduled to take place in the coming days.
“There is certainly probably cause to move forward with the case,” said Rachel Moran, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “I think, on the one hand, the state seems to have a strong case in that Officer Cummings was driving at an extraordinary high rate of speed in a pursuit that probably shouldn’t have happened. On the other hand, the one complication is the Minneapolis Police Department doesn’t have a terribly clear policy about when pursuits should happen so Officer Cummings could say this is exactly what I’m supposed to do as an officer and that's something the court is going to have to sort out.”
She called the charging decision rare. It joins a growing number of cases brought against officers in recent years.
“Historically in Hennepin County and prosecutors in Minnesota and nationally have been very, very reluctant to charge police with crimes,” Moran said. “We are seeing a little bit of a shift in that in recent years and that could be due to public pressure, it could be due to more awakening by prosecutors, it could be due to the fact that Mike Freeman is reaching his last year in office.”
She added, “The more common it becomes, the more precedent it sets for future possibility.”
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