Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaks during a news conference as he announced the suspension of two officers involved in a high speed pursuit .
Detroit investigators are trying to determine why two special operations officers did not render aid to a 19-year-old motorist after he slammed his car into a tree following a high-speed chase, Police Chief James Craig said Wednesday.
After Jerry Bradford’s 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix plowed into the large tree Monday night, the officers did not stop, Craig said. Instead, he said, they drove away — but then circled back to the scene minutes later in response to a radio dispatch that a car had crashed. Bradford was pronounced dead at the scene.
The two officers, who are assigned to the 9th Precinct on Detroit’s east side, were suspended after Craig said they did not disclose they’d been involved in a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood that ended with Bradford’s death.
Craig said the officers did not tell him during a briefing the next morning about the pursuit, which ended after Bradford ran a stop sign at the intersection of Maiden and Park Drive and crashed into a silver Mercury that was driven by a 67-year-old man, who suffered minor injuries.
After hitting the Mercury, Bradford lost control of his car and crashed into the tree. A chunk of his vehicle was still embedded into the trunk the day after the incident.
The chief said after the officers seemed reluctant to provide details about the incident, he demanded to review the dash-cam video, and by watching the footage was able to determine a 35-second high-speed chase had taken place.
“This was a total disregard for our pursuit policy,” Craig said Wednesday during a press conference at police headquarters. The department revamped its policy in March 2016 to prohibit officers from engaging in vehicle chases of anyone not suspected of a violent felony.
“This was an egregious incident in my judgment, and I made the decision to suspend both officers,” Craig said. “It was also my decision that we would launch not only an internal investigation, but a criminal investigation as well.”
Amid the probes, Craig has suspended the two officers with pay, and said he will ask the Board of Police Commissioners Thursday to approve withholding the officers’ salaries during the probe.
“I’ve also been in contact with the Wayne County prosecutors, and we’re working with (an assistant prosecutor) in the investigation,” Craig said.
“I initially got a briefing the night of the fatal crash. At that point, my briefing did not include a lot of information. Candidly, I was very frustrated.
“I wanted to get to the bottom of this very quickly. After I had a conversation the following morning with the commanders, I was still frustrated — so much so that I demanded we have a meeting so I could personally look at the video. Until (Tuesday) morning, I did not receive any information that there was a vehicle pursuit.”
Craig said the video showed the officers initially pull up behind Bradford’s car about 10:30 p.m. The chief said the officers told him they wanted to look at the vehicle’s license plate for an undisclosed reason.
“At the point of first observing the Grand Prix, there was no indication of a traffic violation,” Craig said. “Maybe the officers had a hunch; as a former police officer, I can tell you we operate on hunches. But they never got close enough to see the plate, and (after Bradford fled), a number of traffic violations occurred, including reckless driving, which still is not a reason to chase.”
Bradford reached speeds faster than 100 mph, while the squad car followed at speeds exceeding 77 mph, Craig said. During the chase, the officers further violated department policy by not informing a supervisor they were pursuing a suspect, Craig said.
“When I looked at the video, I can see (Bradford) being chased ... posing a significant risk to the public,” he said. “From the video, it seemed as if (Bradford’s) vehicle lost control and was involved in a collision. At that time, the officers’ overhead (squad car) lights were cut off, and they stopped and made a right turn.
“In my judgment, when you talk about an accident, particularly following a high-speed pursuit, what’s concerning is the life-saving efforts, dealing with the possibility of injured persons, and making sure the appropriate medical help is summoned quickly,” Craig said. “In this case, it didn’t happen, although medical help was summoned after a 911 call was made.”
Craig said he did not want to speculate why the officers did not immediately stop to render aid to Bradford. “We do know there was no effort to immediately go to the point of termination (of the chase, where the crash occurred),” the chief said. “The officers opted to go into a different direction. That’s something we’ll pursue in our investigation.”
The officers returned to the scene about three minutes later, Craig said.
Craig’s version of events matched eyewitnesses who told The Detroit News the officers continued driving west down Maiden Street after the crash, and then returned moments later.
“They didn’t have on their lights or sirens,” said Brenda Smith, who said she was standing outside on Maiden when the crash occurred. “After he crashed, the police kept driving. Then they came back and started asking what happened, like they didn’t know.”
Marquies Yeldell said he also saw the collision.
“He hit the tree and wrapped his car around it,” he said. “Then the police came back and started asking everyone questions, like they were pretending they didn’t know what had happened.”
The Rev. W.J. Rideout III, pastor at All God’s People Church, said Wednesday his church security guard is Bradford’s cousin.
“They asked me to do a protest, but I didn’t see the need to, because Chief Craig jumped right on this and did not run from it, so I really appreciate that,” Rideout said. “He’s doing everything he can do.”
In April, Bradford was charged in Wayne Circuit Court with assault with intent to commit murder, although in August, he was found not guilty by a jury, court records show.
Bradford’s girlfriend, Mariah Bartlett, said Wednesday friends and family were still reeling from the incident.
“We’re not doing too good,” she said. “We’re trying to stay strong, but it’s hard.”
Detroit police officials were prompted to tweak the department’s pursuit policy after police chases ended in deaths, including a June 2015 incident in which a parole absconder being chased by police hit five children, including 3-year-old Makiah Jackson and 6-year-old brother Michaelangelo Jackson, who were killed.
Prior to the change, Detroit police could chase anyone suspected of a felony.
“We changed that to only allow chases for violent felonies,” Craig said.
Detroit’s policy mirrors those of most police departments, the chief said.
“Restricted chase policies are considered a best practice,” he said.
Police chases have been a heated topic since an August pursuit by Michigan State Police that ended in the death of 15-year-old ATV driver Damon Grimes, about three miles south of where Bradford was killed.
In that case, three state troopers have been suspended, and MSP has temporarily stopped patrolling in the 9th Precinct because officials said they want to avoid stoking animosity in the wake of the incident.
State police officials said Grimes was driving his ATV illegally in the street and did not comply with the troopers’ orders to stop. Trooper Mark Bessner allegedly shot the teen with his Taser. Grimes lost control of his vehicle, slammed into a flatbed and died from blunt-force head trauma. Bessner resigned after the incident.
Detroit and state police are investigating the ATV incident. Three Detroit police sources told The Detroit News a state police sergeant is being investigated for allegedly throwing away one of the Taser wires from the scene.