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In hot pursuit of some answers

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE
  • Star Tribune
  • May 4, 2009 - 8:19 AM

Sylvia Lotz and her husband were heading out the front door of their Minneapolis house when sirens grew loud. Then they heard a whoosh and a deafening bang.

"Get down!" Sylvia said her husband yelled as they ran back to the house, where their two sons and a baby sitter headed for the basement.

The commotion: A police chase originating in Savage ended in the alley behind their house, leaving a toddler-sized hole in their garage and a wake of concern in their neighborhood.

Lotz and some other residents say the March 14 pursuit of a known defendant accused of theft wasn't worth the public safety risk. They point to a defendant fleeing Roseville police last month who crashed into a car, killing a mother of six.

Because nothing catastrophic happened, Lotz said, police haven't been responsive to the neighborhood. She wants an explanation.

"How could they possibly think they weren't putting everybody at risk?" Lotz said, adding later, "Nobody wants to take any responsibility for what happened and I'm furious."

After trying to get an answer from police, Lotz filed a complaint with the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.

Police in Savage and police in Bloomington, who joined the chase, said they are each reviewing the case.

The suspect in the chase, 45-year-old Craig Page-Bey, was considered a habitual shoplifting suspect at the Target store in Savage, according to a criminal complaint. A store security specialist had called police at about 6 p.m. asking for extra patrols, using the suspect's name and the vehicle he was driving. When, later that evening, security saw Page-Bey put two DVD players and an HDTV monitor into a shopping cart and prepare to leave, they called police again, the complaint said. One guard ran after Page-Bey in the parking lot before he sped away in the car, which was stolen and had another person in it.

A Savage officer spotted the car later and tried to stop it. Page-Bey led Savage police and, eventually, Bloomington police, over highways at more than 100 miles per hour before turning onto residential streets, court papers say. Richfield police were coming to assist, too.

In the alley behind the Lotzes' house, Page-Bey sped within feet of boys playing basketball, residents said. He hit the Lotzes' garage and parked cars before the stolen car flipped and landed on its roof.

The Lotzes were left to clean up debris in their yard and pay insurance deductibles to fix damage to their garage and car, along with other expenses, Lotz said.

Lotz has since read copies of police departments' pursuit policies, which show that police must consider many factors in deciding whether to chase, including the suspect's alleged crime and the risk that a chase would pose to the public.

Nationally, 1 percent of all police chases result in a death, according to statistics cited by the California-based non-profit group Voices Insisting on Pursuit Safety. Forty percent end in a collision, with 20 percent ending in a serious injury.

It's often debated who should be held accountable: Police or the suspect?

Minneapolis attorney Robert Bennett, who often represents citizens against police departments, said federal and state case-law precedent often favors police in chase situations.

Sandra Manos, who lives down the street from Lotz, said she still thinks about the danger every time she pulls into the alley or out of her driveway. Neighborhood kids often play around there, she said. She now questions whether it's ever worth the danger to engage in a high-speed pursuit.

Jim Young's two parked cars were damaged by the chase. "When a car lands upside down right behind your basketball hoop, it's scary," he said. He understands police have a tough call on pursuits. In this case, police could have suspected kidnapping or something, he pointed out.

"I think they should have been chasing it," Young said. "It just seems like they could have gotten other law enforcement in front of him to prevent him from going into a residential area."

Individual police officers typically have discretion about whether to pursue, said Neil Melton, executive director of the state Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training. A supervisor typically has the authority to intervene, Melton said. Officers are trained on pursuits every three years, he said.

"This is a tough call and there's not an officer on the street that enjoys this, because they're at risk themselves," Melton said.

Lotz argues that police could have arrested Page-Bey another time. "There was no reason this had to happen. None. And I'm furious. ... I think the fact that no one was killed is nothing short of a miracle."

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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