No charges or discipline for Minneapolis officer in fatal motorcycle crash

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2013 - 1:02 PM

Squad car video shows the motorcycle sliding through intersection and slamming into the rear passenger side of the officer’s SUV.

 

A collision last May between a police SUV rushing to a crime scene and a motorcycle, which ended in the motorcyclist’s death and anguish for the officer, was the fault of both drivers, according to a crash reconstruction report released Thursday.

The finding will not lead to charges or discipline against the Minneapolis police officer involved because he took appropriate precautions, including using his emergency lights and siren and slowing to check for traffic as he crossed against a red light, prosecutors determined.

“This is not an example of an officer being over the line,” Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau said.

The report’s release marked the end of a sprawling investigation stemming from the May 10 police shooting of Terrance Franklin. The collision occurred afterward as the police SUV rushed to the crime scene. The shooting and the crash amounted to a major first test for Harteau, who was only months into the job, as she met the public controversy over who was to blame for the deaths.

According to the State Patrol report, motorcyclist Ivan Romero Olivares, 24, was driving a few miles faster than the speed limit moments before he collided with the SUV driven by Minneapolis officer Joshua Young.

Young failed to verify that there were no vehicles approaching as he entered the intersection of 26th Street and Blaisdell Av. S. against a red light, the report concluded.

A third possible factor was that Romero’s inexperience caused him to tip the bike over moments before the crash, preventing him from fully applying the brakes and possibly avoiding the crash, wrote Sgt. Andrew Brumm of the State Patrol Major Crash Reconstruction Unit.

The crash wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a foot chase earlier that day in Uptown. Burglary suspect Terrance Franklin, 22, led officers on a wild 90-minute chase through a residential neighborhood before he was found by several officers hiding in the basement of a home he had broken into.

A confrontation left Franklin dead of multiple gunshot wounds and two officers wounded with gunshot wounds to the legs.

Call for help

Some 30 minutes after the shooting, an officer called for help securing the scene. Young, whose reputation for heroics on the job had landed him in a newspaper column just months earlier, was several blocks to the east when he activated his lights and siren and headed toward Uptown along 26th Street.

Young drove for several blocks before coming to the intersection with Blaisdell Avenue S., with several cars waiting at a red light to cross. He slowed to 16 to 17 mph while weaving through traffic before entering the intersection. He then accelerated and was driving 24 to 26 mph as he was about to leave the intersection, according to the report.

Brumm wrote that he found nothing in his investigation to indicate that Young saw the oncoming motorcyclist, including footage from a squad video in Young’s car that includes audio.

Romero was in the left of the two southbound lanes on Blaisdell Avenue S., according to Brumm. A man driving a car, Shukri Mohamud, was in the other lane. He told investigators he heard sirens and pulled over, even though he had a green light.

It’s questionable whether the motorcyclist could have seen or heard the police SUV in time to yield and avoid the crash, Brumm wrote. Traffic congestion, the surrounding buildings, vehicle noise and visual obstructions “likely hindered” Romero’s awareness.

Just before reaching the intersection, at a speed of 32 mph to 34 mph, Romero executed a “dynamic braking maneuver” that locked his rear wheel, sending the Yamaha YZF-R1 1000cc motorcycle into a skid. Romero then steered to the right, causing the motorcycle to tip over.

The motorcycle, Romero and his passenger, Joselin Torrejon-Villamil, slammed into the police SUV. It appeared that Romero then slipped under the vehicle and was run over by the rear tire, Brumm said.

A squad car dashboard-camera video taken from a police vehicle that was following Young shows the motorcycle sliding through the intersection and slamming into the rear passenger side of the SUV.

Neither Romero nor Torrejon-Villamil wore helmets. She was injured but survived. No drugs or alcohol were involved in the collision. Romero did not have a valid Minnesota driver’s license or a motorcycle permit or endorsement.

Not grossly negligent

An Oct. 18 letter from the Hennepin County attorney’s office to Assistant Minneapolis Police Chief Matt Clark spells out the legal arguments behind the county and city authorities’ decision to clear Young from criminal prosecution.

Despite the State Patrol’s finding that Young was partly responsible for the collision, prosecutors found that his actions fell short of the “gross negligence” standard necessary for a felony charge; even a misdemeanor charge would require that Young’s driving demonstrated a “willful or wanton disregard” for others. The prosecutor said Young’s driving didn’t meet that definition.

Even if it had, it’s unclear if he would have been charged with the misdemeanor: the law does not apply to emergency vehicles responding to a call.

Speaking to the press Thursday, Harteau said she intentionally wore civilian clothes to the news conference.

“I do that purposefully to remind everyone that behind our uniforms we are human beings,” she said, “who even when making good faith efforts and responding to calls for help, an event such as this unfortunately can happen.”

 

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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