Despite the cost, local cops can't resist deadly pursuits

Hazelwood's pursuit policy forbids risky tactics such as ramming or bumping vehicles. Rolling roadblocks in which patrol cars surround a fleeing vehicle are also banned. Other kinds of roadblocks must be authorized by a supervisor, and roadblocks must be set up in such a way as to give the fleeing motorist a chance to safely stop. Despite those restrictions, Mansker says, the officer's actions were within the city's pursuit policy. "So far as I can tell, yes," the captain says when asked whether the Hazelwood officer adhered to the policy when his vehicle struck the fleeing car.

Pursuit policies in place at most departments state that officers must weigh the importance of capturing a fleeing motorist against the risk to public safety. Policies typically require officers to immediately notify supervisors of pursuits, and either the officer or his supervisor can end the chase. McCall chuckles when asked how often a supervisor makes the call. "The reason I'm laughing is that the average officer doesn't want to stop," the captain says. "The majority, if not all, of our pursuits are terminated by supervisors."

Mark Andresen
Mark Andresen

With more than five dozen police departments in St. Louis County, some with fewer than ten officers protecting cities of fewer than 2,000 people, figuring out whether to join a pursuit that crosses city lines can be difficult. Officers must consult with counterparts from other agencies to determine whether a chase is worth the risk. What's allowed under one city's pursuit policy may be prohibited in neighboring municipalities. McCall wishes his officers had known more before getting involved in a September chase that started in Kinloch.

According to St. Louis County Police records, Sergeant Walter Wilson of the Kinloch Police Department says Jason Grier of Bridgeton twice pulled away when he tried to stop him because he had been parked in an area known for drug trafficking at 3:40 a.m. Wilson drew his gun the second time Grier stopped. The sergeant was reaching into the Honda Accord to pull the keys from the ignition when the Grier again took off. Wilson told county investigators that the car door bumped his right hand and his gun accidentally discharged as Grier, wounded in his left elbow, sped away. Wilson jumped back in his patrol car and chased Grier 25 miles with the help of officers from Berkeley, Edmundson and Maryland Heights.

"I figured I had to chase him since I shot him," Wilson told a county detective. Wilson and officers from Edmundson and Berkeley nearly corralled the Honda in a residential cul-de-sac in Maryland Heights, but Grier escaped after driving over lawns while Wilson squeezed off three more shots. Wilson claimed Grier was trying to run over him, but a county detective reported that the bullets penetrated the driver's side of the Honda and that tire tracks on lawns contradicted the sergeant's story. Berkeley Corporal Dan Polino also told the detective that Grier never drove toward police. The corporal said he believed Wilson was just angry because Grier wouldn't stop.

The chase ended less than a mile later, after Maryland Heights police put out spikes that flattened the tires of both the Honda and Wilson's patrol car. Grier told the county detective that he first fled from Wilson because a man who'd jumped into his car uninvited at a gas station had a knife to his throat. The passenger bailed out of the car early on, Grier claimed, but detectives couldn't confirm whether another person was in the Honda, nor could they find the gas station. Asked why he didn't stop for all the officers who joined in the chase, Grier had a simple answer: "I just got shot by the police. Why would I stop?"

Grier and Wilson are both listed as victims and suspects in the county police report, Grier for failing to stop when pursued and Wilson for first-degree assault. Both said they were willing to press charges. Neither was charged with a crime, although Wilson, who had previously worked as a cop in Wellston, Riverview, Pine Lawn and Hillsdale, is no longer with the Kinloch Police Department. However, Wilson's state peace officer's license that allows him to be a cop in Missouri remains in good standing. Twelve days after the fiasco, St. Louis County police took over police duties in Kinloch, citing the chase and other incidents of poor police work. Although county officers receive 911 calls and patrol the city, Kinloch Police Chief Ernest Meriwether says his officers also remain on the streets. "We're a full-service department," Meriwether says.

Meriwether says Wilson was laid off and that the pursuit played no role in his departure from the department. Meriwether wouldn't answer questions about the chase, and he denied a written request for Wilson's report made under the state open-records law, insisting that no such report exists. The county police report, however, states that Wilson did prepare a report for his own department that was at odds with the version of events he provided to a county detective.

Officers who joined the September chase say they got involved after hearing radio dispatches, according to the county police report. In Maryland Heights, a dispatcher said a suspect was refusing to stop for a Kinloch officer and that shots had been fired. An Edmundson officer said he believed a county officer had been dragged by a vehicle and that shots were fired. A Berkeley officer says he heard a dispatcher put out an "officer in need of aid" call as a result of shots' being fired at a Kinloch officer.

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