Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Thursday the city will review yet again its police pursuit policy in the wake of a chase this week that ended with an officer hitting and killing an innocent motorist at a north Minneapolis intersection.
Frey in a statement called the collision that took the life of 40-year-old Leneal Frazier early Tuesday at the intersection of N. Lyndale and 41st avenues "a horrific tragedy."
Noting that Frazier was an uncle of Darnella Frazier, the young Black woman whose cellphone video of George Floyd's death in May 2020 helped convict fired police officer Derek Chauvin of murder, Frey observed that "Darnella, Leneal's family and Minneapolis' Black community have borne the weight of more trauma over the last year than anyone, let alone any young person, should be expected to endure in a lifetime."
Frey noted that the Police Department updated its pursuit policy in 2019 "to make it far more restrictive and will again be reviewing [the] policy independent of the investigation."
The mayor's statement did not say what, if anything, about the actions of officer Brian Cummings leading to the crash about 12:30 a.m. prompted his decision for a review of the pursuit policy.
In an interview late Thursday with the Star Tribune, Frey said Leneal Frazier's death under these circumstances was enough to prompt a review.
"Simply put, a man is dead," he said. "We have a moral obligation to see that department policy values the sanctity of life over everything else."
Police spokesman John Elder said after Frey's announcement, "We constantly review our policies to ensure we are following best practices [and] to see if there is anything we need to do to strengthen or tighten them."
Cummings was pursuing a robbery and carjacking suspect on northbound Lyndale, entered the well-traveled intersection — which is controlled by a traffic light — and hit Frazier's SUV broadside. The SUV slammed into a bus shelter on one corner and came to rest in a crumpled heap.
The officer and a minivan driver caught up in the wreckage were slightly injured.
Police haven't said whether Cummings entered the intersection against a red light or had his emergency lights or siren activated.
There is video from the squad's dashboard camera and the officer's body-worn camera, but police have yet to say what might have been recorded. Surveillance video from a gas station on the corner shows the squad car and Frazier's westbound SUV entering the intersection apparently without slowing down before the squad smashes into the driver's side of Frazier's SUV.
The State Patrol is investigating, while police continue to look for the subject of the pursuit.
The Police Department also has started an internal inquiry into the pursuit, including looking at whether the squad had its emergency lights and siren activated as its policy requires, Elder said.
MPD's pursuit policy, updated in June 2019 after chases 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 in which 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 Tuesday afternoon. "We are limiting what we can chase for, but these were obvious felonies."
Later Tuesday on social media, Darnella Frazier 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."
Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney who helped the Floyd family win a $27 million wrongful death suit against the city, announced Thursday that he's been retained by the Frazier family.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Leneal Frazier, including Miss Darnella Frazier, who has now twice been directly impacted by lethal practices of the Minneapolis Police Department," Crump said in a statement. "Police pursuits should be rare, and law enforcement should take the greatest of precautions to protect all involved, especially innocent drivers and bystanders."
Crump added that "we expect a timely and transparent investigation by the Minneapolis State Patrol. The Frazier family deserves answers and accountability as they try to make sense of this terrible and preventable tragedy."
Frey agreed Thursday that transparency in critical police incidents is important, and the release of officer body-camera and squad camera video contributes to that, but he said he's not ready to take that step yet in this case.
"Every investigation is unique, and we have to work within the parameters of the law" to balance transparency without compromising the investigation, he said.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482