The Limitations of Police ‘No Chase’ Policies
Two moped riders were left dead or injured after recent police pursuits in Washington, D.C., and Providence, Rhode Island.
Jhamal Gonsalves, 24, has been in a coma for over a month.
On Oct. 18, during a community “ride-out” event organized to encourage picking up bikes and putting down guns, Gonsalves was followed extremely closely by Providence Police Department Officer Kyle Endres in a police cruiser. He veered right on his moped. The cruiser then struck Gonsalves, a witness said and video from the scene suggests.
Five days later in Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department Officer Terence Sutton Jr. pursued 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown on his moped for, according to MPD’s press release, operating a moped on the sidewalk without a helmet. Hylton-Brown was chased into an alleyway and struck by a passing vehicle. He died three days later.
Both Providence police and MPD have rules that restrict vehicular pursuits to cases threatening the lives and safety of others, but officers have violated the rules repeatedly, lawsuits allege.
According to federal class action lawsuits in 2009, 2013, and 2020, MPD officers have repeatedly used deadly force against Black men on dirt bikes, at times intentionally hitting riders. The District of Columbia settled the 2009 case for an undisclosed amount in 2016.
About two and a half years ago, MPD seemed to violate its chase policy, according to witnesses, when an officer chased and killed Jeffrey Price on his dirt bike.
In 2017, Providence and state police fired more than 40 rounds during a highway pursuit of Joseph Santos, killing Santos and injuring a passenger in the vehicle.
None of the officers involved in the pursuits of Gonsalves or Hylton-Brown have been fired or placed on administrative leave. MPD told The Appeal that it is “currently conducting a thorough and proper investigation” of the Hylton-Brown pursuit. MPD said involved officers are on “non-contact status,” meaning they are still paid and working, but are not interacting with the public.
The city of Providence did not respond to a request for comment, but Providence Safety Commissioner Steven Paré disputed that Endres pursued Gonsalves, describing it instead as “escorting.” Endres was on paid desk duty as of Nov. 13.
Jhamal’s father, Mark Gonsalves, told a local NBC affiliate that he wants the officer fired. “It is just humiliating and disgusting that I get a paycheck, I got paid today, and some of the taxes that I got paid for are paying for this cop,” he said.
From 1979 to 2013, pursuits in Washington have killed at least 38 people and 29 in Providence County. But lethal and injurious pursuits are not anomalous to these cities.
Nationally in the same time period, police chases resulted in the deaths of at least 139 police officers, 6,301 suspects, and 5,066 bystanders and passengers, and 270,000 additional injuries, according to a 2015 USA Today report analyzing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data. A later investigation, however, revealed that NHTSA statistics undercounted deaths by an estimated 31 percent largely because of how the agency codes and gathers information on crashes.
Still, NHTSA is the only federal agency that tracks victims of police chases. From 2014 to 2017, NHTSA tracked 1,594 deaths from police chases.
An increasing number of police departments have adopted restricted pursuit policies, but chases that violate those policies still take place.
After Florida Highway Patrol restricted chases to suspected felons, drunk drivers, and reckless drivers in 2012, pursuits fell by about half. Still, 35 percent of chases in 2013 and 2014 violated the policy, according to state reports.
In November 2019, Buffalo police violated policy when officers chased a vehicle with a tinted license plate cover, which resulted in a crash that left passenger Nikir Brown paralyzed from the waist down. This was one recent violation of several.
Newark, New Jersey, police officers attempted to cover up a chase that violated department policy by shutting off their dashboard camera and body cameras.
A handful of states, like Minnesota, California, and Connecticut, have laws requiring formalized vehicular pursuit policies, but the specifics are generally left up to individual police departments.
Providence City Councilmember Katherine Kerwin told The Appeal that the police department must enforce its no-chase policy and hold its officers accountable, adding that such policy is “just one small part of why we need sweeping police reform.”
Valerie Wexler, an organizer with Stop Police Terror Project DC, an organization committed to “changing the system of racist, militarized policing in the nation’s capital” told The Appeal that, absent full defunding of police, the D.C. City Council must put in place laws that ban police chases and implement consequences for violating them.
“Individual officers should be subject to severe penalties for violations, and if those violations actually lead to someone’s death they should be immediately fired and stripped of their pension,” she said. Refusing to enforce violations should result in a funding freeze, an independent investigation, and any legal fees or lawsuit settlements should be paid from the department’s budget, Wexler said.
“And bans on practices like chasing need to only be the beginning. We also need bans on consent searches and must fully ban stop-and-frisk in D.C.,” Wexler added.
Abolitionists argue that police have never been, and are unlikely to ever be, accountable to the public because of their vast institutional power.
“Our demand is no longer about the accountability of law enforcement. Law enforcement is unable to be accountable,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors told Atlanta Black Star in May. “We must defund law enforcement and reimagine a world that relies on an economy of care versus an economy of punishment.”
Philadelphia-based community activist Jondhi Harrell wrote recently that cities could designate park space for ATV riders or find other ways to honor this Black subculture rather than criminalize the activity.
Until then, Black people, at risk of being brutalized, are left without recourse, Wexler said.
“Karon had every reason to believe that being stopped by Sutton would put him in danger,” she said. “This is the reality and the choice that Black and brown members of our community face every day—don’t run and risk dying or run and risk dying, there is no safe option.”