Hot Pursuit

Minneapolis police say the chase that ended in the deaths of two bystanders on I-94 was by-the-book. Some other cities are throwing out that book.

This past April, Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson tapped Inspector David Indrehus to head a dozen-member committee. Indrehus's mission: to undertake a point-by-point re-examination of the nine pages in the MPD's manual that govern police pursuits. On September 1 Indrehus presented Olson with a draft outlining proposed revisions.

"Primarily, we just want to make sure that we don't get involved in chases that we shouldn't," says the inspector. "We know full well that the results of these can be extremely dangerous for everyone involved. We wanted to make sure that the policy provided some safety for the officers and for the general public."

Coincidentally, the committee completed its task barely a week after two bystanders were killed by an allegedly reckless driver who was being pursued by police on I-94 near downtown. It's doubtful, however, that any new guidelines would have affected the outcome of the chase that took the lives of 45-year-old Paula Lovrien and 26-year-old Lesley Anderson. Though he declined to cite specifics of the proposed revisions, which still await Chief Olson's review, Indrehus characterizes the draft as a "fine-tuning" of the existing policy.

Craig Lassig

Thanks to a law passed by the Minnesota Legislature in 1988, every police agency in the state must have a written policy regarding police chases. Among other things, the policies must specify how many vehicles may be involved in a chase and detail the circumstances under which officers should call off a pursuit. But the law doesn't designate any agency to oversee the implementation or review of chase policies--that task falls to the individual police departments themselves.

According to the MPD's current policy, a chase should not be undertaken (or should be called off) if an officer is able to identify the suspect and feels he can be apprehended at another time; if the chase would pose "unreasonable risk to the officers and/or the public" or if weather or road conditions constitute a similar risk; if the seriousness of the offense doesn't merit continued pursuit; or if anyone requires medical assistance as the result of a pursuit already in progress.

The August 24 chase began not long after midnight just north of downtown Minneapolis. Ofcr. Chris Gaiters was on patrol when he saw a speeding minivan run a red light and force another car onto the curb to avoid an accident. Gaiters flipped on his lights and siren and took up pursuit. It didn't last long. According to the MPD's incident report, Gaiters took off after the van as it accelerated along the Broadway on-ramp to eastbound I-94. Moments later, the report says, Gaiters's quarry took the Lowry Tunnel's sharp left-hand bend at 55 to 60 mph (the posted speed limit is 35 mph), careening against the wall before emerging from the tunnel on the shoulder of the highway. The minivan struck two cars that were parked on the roadside just outside the tunnel, killing Lovrien and her friend Anderson, whom she had summoned for help after running out of gas. The driver of the minivan, 19-year-old Mantu Craven, was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .205--more than twice the legal limit. According to the incident report, Craven's younger brother, a passenger in the minivan, told police that during the chase Craven ordered him to swallow five rocks of crack cocaine they were carrying. The report also quoted the brother as telling police, "I told him to stop, but he just kept saying, 'Fuck the police.'"

Mantu Craven has been charged with two counts of third-degree murder and one count of fleeing a peace officer which resulted in injury or death. His attorney, Joe Margulies, declined to comment about the case for this story. His client's first scheduled court appearance is set for September 29. City Pages was unable to reach the families of Lovrien and Anderson, but Anderson's father Skip reportedly told the Star Tribune after the incident that he had some questions about the police pursuit.

"Preliminary indications are that the officer followed all policies and procedures," asserts Minneapolis police spokeswoman Penny Parrish, who places the blame for the tragedy squarely on Craven. "Responsibility in this case needs to be put on the person who caused this horrible tragedy," she says. "It's is very tough for the officers involved in a case like this, it's emotionally very tough, but they have to take action when they see somebody endangering other lives."

Bob Bennett, a lawyer who is representing the plaintiffs in two Minnesota cases involving bystanders injured during police pursuits, is more skeptical. "I guess I think that chasing anybody through the Lowry Hill Tunnel is too dangerous, given the fact that it doesn't have any shoulder," Bennett observes. "It's probably the most dangerous place to chase anybody in the city, as far as I can tell."

One of Bennett's current cases involves the MPD. It stems from an August 1996 incident in which police pursued suspected car thief Darren Shannon the wrong way onto I-94, where he crashed into and killed limousine driver Brian Feist. The attorney is also suing the city of Blaine on behalf of Tim Helseth, who was rendered a quadriplegic in 1995 when a car being chased by police crashed into his pickup, also killing his passenger. That incident, Bennett notes, prompted Blaine to make its pursuit policy more restrictive.

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