Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau acknowledged Wednesday that a police vehicle went through a red light on its way to a shooting scene where a man had been killed 30 minutes earlier, colliding with a motorcyclist, killing him and injuring a passenger.
Under questioning during a tense news conference at City Hall, Harteau said the officer who was driving is traumatized and has not given a statement yet, five days after the Friday incident.
That delay seemed wrong to local criminal defense attorney Ryan Pacyga, who said his experience has been that police interview people immediately after an incident, “while the memory is fresh, while they don’t have time to change their story.”
While some of what Harteau revealed Wednesday helped shed light on Friday’s fatal chain of events, she declined to answer more questions about who shot and killed a burglary suspect, saying she’s awaiting test results and a completed investigation.
Harteau defended the speed of the department’s investigation and its release of information. “We’re moving as quickly as we can. The goal is to be right and accurate,” she said.
The handling of the high-profile case has become a significant first test for Harteau, who took office in early December. At the news conference, she was joined by two City Council members, Don Samuels and Meg Tuthill, whose ward covers the Uptown area. The events Friday afternoon unfolded after burglary suspect Terrance T. Franklin, 22, took police on a wild chase through a crowded Uptown neighborhood. He was eventually found in the basement of a house and killed at 3:30 p.m. by gunshots after a scuffle with police officers, two of whom were shot and injured. It’s not yet known who shot the officers, whether Franklin was armed or how exactly the confrontation became deadly.
Much of the information Harteau provided about the collision that killed motorcyclist Ivan Romero came from a computer on the police sport-utility vehicle. It records speed, location and a video looking through the windshield.
SUV’s speed: 16 or 17 mph
At the news conference, the chief said the SUV was going 16 to 17 mph at the time of the crash, according to the onboard computer. The accident was reported at 4:05 p.m.
Earlier, her office said it was traveling “well below the posted speed limit,” but didn’t include the specific speed or whether it went through a red light. Harteau said on Wednesday that she received the data Tuesday.
Two witnesses, one of whom said she had spoken to the police, told the Star Tribune that the SUV appeared to be traveling between 40 and 50 mph before the collision. Those witnesses, plus a third, said it went through a red light.
Police said the motorcycle struck the rear passenger side of the SUV. Romero’s passenger and girlfriend, Joselin Torrejon-Villamil, was injured.
Asked why the SUV was traveling with its lights and siren on 30 minutes after Franklin had been shot, Harteau said that the shooting scene remained “fluid” and that the police vehicle was responding to a supervisor’s request for more assistance.
It’s unclear when the investigation will end: Harteau said some of the officers involved haven’t been interviewed yet, including the driver of the SUV involved in the fatal collision.
Asked whether such a delay would be taking place if it was a civilian driver and not a police officer, Harteau said the department sometimes waits to interview civilians, too. Asked whether the department was concerned that the officer’s memory of the incident might change, Harteau said memories are sometimes freshest immediately after an incident and sometimes people remember more as time goes by.
Asked to comment, Pacyga expressed sympathy for the police officer, saying that he could understand the desire to hold off on the interview while the officer grieves the loss of an innocent life but that he saw the delay as something out of line with normal practices.
“They’re going to break their own rules when it becomes an investigation of one of their own,” he said.
Questions about shooting
Little is known about the scuffle with police that led to Franklin’s death. The Police Department has not yet said who shot whom, saying only that Franklin reached for an officer’s machine pistol, known as an MP5, during the fight. An autopsy report said he died of multiple gunshot wounds.
At the news conference, Harteau was asked if Franklin was armed and if the officers, Michael Meath and Ricardo Muro, were injured with their own weapons. She declined to answer, saying she was awaiting forensics information.
“I’m not interested in giving you opinion. I’m interested in giving you facts,” she said.
Asked about why an outside agency was not involved in the investigation, she said that she has the “utmost confidence” in her people. She also said the State Patrol has been called in to review the accident reconstruction.
Many of the questions Wednesday challenged Harteau’s earlier statements that the department is committed to transparency.
“Transparency is not immediacy,” she said in response.
In the days after the incident, family members and friends of Romero, a 24-year-old baker, and Franklin have said they don’t feel police have been forthcoming with details.
Asked what she would say if she could speak to the families, Harteau said she would first like to say she is sorry for their loss.
“Regardless of the situation, they lost a family member,” she said. “I would assure them frankly that we are conducting an incredibly thorough investigation and that we will share information with them as soon as we can.”
Harteau said that she has offered to meet with the families of Franklin and Romero but that both have so far declined.