The man killed when he was caught up in a violent crash involving a Minneapolis police squad car pursuing a robbery suspect was the uncle of Darnella Frazier, who filmed the death of George Floyd.
Frazier said in a Facebook post Tuesday evening that Leneal Lamont Frazier — who was not involved in the chase — died when his vehicle was struck by the squad as it pursued another vehicle.
She questioned why police were involved in a high-speed chase on a residential road.
"Another black man lost his life in the hands of the police!" wrote Frazier, who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for capturing video of Floyd's death. "Minneapolis police has cost my whole family a big loss … today has been a day full of heartbreak and sadness."
Three vehicles, including the squad, were involved in the wreck, which happened about 12:30 a.m. at 41st and Lyndale avenues north in the Camden neighborhood, said police spokesman John Elder. Police were trying to catch a driver who was in a stolen vehicle believed to have been taken during a carjacking and linked to robberies at multiple businesses, Elder said.
Officers spotted the stolen vehicle near N. 6th Street and Lowry Avenue and attempted a traffic stop. The driver fled. As the pursuing officer going north on Lyndale entered the intersection at 41st, he collided with a westbound vehicle, Elder said.
The driver of the westbound vehicle, identified by Frazier as her uncle, was taken to North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale by ambulance but later died, Elder said. The officer was also taken to the hospital for treatment and later released, Elder said.
The suspect was not involved in the crash and as of Tuesday afternoon remained at large, but another vehicle heading south on Lyndale Avenue was also involved in the crash, Elder said.
The State Patrol responded to the scene and is investigating. The Police Department will begin an internal investigation into the pursuit, including looking at whether the squad had its emergency lights on and siren activated as department policy requires, Elder said. The intersection is controlled by stoplights, and Elder said he could not say who had the right of way, referring questions to the State Patrol.
MPD's pursuit policy, updated in June 2019 after pursuits jumped 25% over three years, also states that police may no longer initiate a pursuit or must terminate a pursuit in progress if it "poses an unreasonable risk to the officers, the public or passengers of the vehicle being pursued who may be unwilling participants."
The policy reads that officers can only give chase in situations where they believe a suspect has committed or is about to commit "a serious and violent felony or gross misdemeanor." The policy also allows for a pursuit if the suspect's driving is "so flagrantly reckless that the driver would pose an imminent and life-threatening danger to the public if not apprehended."
Tuesday morning's pursuit "fit the criteria," Elder said. "We are limiting what we can chase for, but these were obvious felonies."
The sound of the back-to-back collisions sent numerous residents to their windows or out of their homes to the intersection, where they saw on the northwest corner a mangled SUV with its driver side crumpled sitting next to a freshly toppled bus shelter in front of a gas station.
Police officers, crash investigators and others in law enforcement walked around and inspected wreckage large and small from the SUV, the police squad and a minivan with a crumpled front end, its air bags filling the front passenger compartment. The investigators' work continued for several hours afterward.
Raquel Brown said she came upon the crash scene while on her way to the store with two of her siblings and started recording cellphone video of the aftermath because "that was something that needed to be told."
Brown, who lived on the North Side for 26 years before moving to Dallas, said one of the vehicles hit by the squad car appeared to have been "just T-boned right into the bus stop. The whole driver's side was gone."
Officers were called to the scene to keep bystanders at a distance outside the yellow police tape, she said.
"We asked one [officer] who came up, and he said, 'We don't really know. Let's calm down,' " she said. "We were like, we want to know what happened. He really wasn't able to tell us anything."
Dwayne Bledsoe said he was standing in the alley behind Prosperity Village Apartments at the southeast corner of the intersection when he heard a loud bang and came upon the aftermath of the crash. He marveled that no pedestrians were killed. "I was about to go back and sit on that bus stop. I would have been dead," he said.
Bledsoe pointed to cameras throughout the intersection. A clerk at the Clark gas station said cameras were trained directly on the intersection and would have captured what happened, but as of noon the footage had not yet been gathered by police.
Regardless of the circumstances, Bledsoe said, high-speed chases should not take place on residential streets.
"What do you think, that a life is more important or the car is more important?" he said.
Pursuits are widely acknowledged to be one of the most dangerous activities police undertake, and sometimes, like Tuesday, have deadly results. In 2018, a speeding driver trying to evade the State Patrol plowed into a North Side playground and seriously injured three young siblings. A few months later, a speeding motorist in a stolen SUV fleeing the State Patrol crashed into a vehicle outside Matt's Bar at 35th Street and S. Cedar Avenue. Three people died in the crash.
From 1996 to 2015, fatal crashes during police pursuits led to over 7,000 deaths, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics. In that 20-year period, Minnesota recorded 72 deaths resulting from pursuits, the report said.
From 1996 to 2015, an average of 355 people — about one per day — were killed annually nationwide in pursuit-related crashes, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Minnesota, at least 40 fatalities resulted from police pursuits from 2013-2019.
Police departments can set their own policies regarding pursuits, but the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) has a model policy they can follow. The policy states that a pursuit is justified when "a vehicle operator fails to stop after being given a visual or audible signal to stop by a peace officer, and there is reasonable expectation of a successful apprehension of the suspect."
According to a Star Tribune analysis of more than 700 Minneapolis police chases from 2016 through 2020, about 26% ended in a crash, a figure that rises to 34% in cases involving auto theft. Only about 13% of chases ended because the driver stopped voluntarily, while another 23% ended due to supervisory direction. Less than 10% ended in a confirmed injury.
Data journalist Jeff Hargarten and staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.