The former Minneapolis police officer who killed an innocent driver during a high-speed chase two years ago was ordered Wednesday to serve nine months in the county workhouse, and he will be eligible for electric home monitoring in three months.
Brian Cummings pleaded guilty in April to criminal vehicular homicide for the brief chase that reached speeds up to 100 mph throughout residential streets in north Minneapolis before his squad car ran a red light and struck a Jeep driven by Leneal Frazier on July 6, 2021. Cummings was chasing a carjacking suspect who escaped and was arrested 18 months later.
Cummings, who had family and some colleagues there in support, addressed the court by offering "my most heartfelt apology in the untimely death of Mr. Frazier."
"I'd like to take this time to acknowledge the great pain and suffering the Frazier family is experiencing," he said, adding that he hopes the Fraziers can find "peace and healing, too."
The Fraziers expressed overwhelming grief and anger over the sentence for Cummings, whose actions cost the life of a 40-year-old father of six who had been driving home that night. Frazier was the uncle of Darnella Frazier, the teen who recorded ex-MPD officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes until he died in 2020.
His mother, siblings and children filled the courtroom for the sentencing, knowing that Cummings' plea agreement would result in him serving a year or less. The amount of time for criminal vehicular homicide is the norm, state data show.
Frazier's uncle Dwayne Jackson brought along the ashes of his nephew. He held the urn as he told Hennepin County District Judge Tamara Garcia that if a non-officer killed someone, they wouldn't be looking at so light a sentence.
"It's not right that the officer gets less time for murder," Jackson said.
Cummings' attorneys, Thomas Plunkett and Deborah Ellis, asked Garcia for 400 hours of community service. They argued that unlike other cases of criminal vehicular homicide, this one involved an on-duty officer who was engaged in lawful activity before he broke department policy by driving with gross negligence and disregarding public safety.
The pursuit lasted less than 2 minutes and covered about 1.5 miles. The defense said the pursuit "arose out of legitimate, law enforcement action initiated by a solid, well-respected officer with an impeccable record." At the time, Minneapolis was experiencing an increase in carjackings, but it was also noted that pursuits often result in fatalities.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office found that between 2013 and 2020, police pursuits resulted in 40 fatalities, according to court filings.
Prosecutor Joshua Larson said that Cummings initiated a staggering number of pursuits leading up to the fatality. According to data from MPD, Larson said that Cummings had 12 pursuits in six months— 1/10th of all pursuits for the entire department that year.
"The defendant is not here because of police work he did right," Larson said. "We are here because during the pursuit of the Kia, the defendant became so singularly focused on chasing that Kia that he abandoned the norms and standards of how a police officer must drive.
"He chose to endanger it all — his life, Mr. Frazier's life, everything."
But Larson also noted that Cummings is the first officer in the state to plead guilty to homicide without any prior conviction. That being said, Larson added that the duty of officers is "keep the danger at bay, but please in doing so, do not become the danger."
According to the charges, Cummings was traveling about 78 mph when he hit Frazier at the intersection of N. Lyndale and 41st avenues, a blind and busy intersection.
The suspected carjacker, James Jones-Drain, had a dozen outstanding warrants. He's since been charged with car theft and causing death by fleeing police. The defense said Jones-Drain narrowly missed Frazier's vehicle.
Larson said the light was red for more than 20 seconds when Cummings ran it and failed to slow down in any meaningful way — conduct that he said "was totally unacceptable."
"He was going way too fast down a residential street at night in north Minneapolis."
Frazier's brother Richard Frazier was in disbelief over the fact that Cummings will be allowed to go home to his family within 90 days after he reports to the workhouse July 26.
"It's a smack in the face and there's nothing we can do about it. We can scream and shout all day long ... but we have to suck it up and continue to live. And to realize that my brother's life didn't mean nothing to him. It didn't mean nothing to him. He's going 100 mph, somebody had to die."
The family's attorney, Jeff Storms is pursuing civil litigation against the city for what he said are failed police pursuit policies. Mayor Jacob Frey said in the aftermath of Frazier's death that the city would again review policies. The city in 2019 restricted police pursuits.
Earlier this year, Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara relaxed pursuit policy to allow officers to chase fleeing suspects involved in certain firearm-related offenses.
"We need a legislative response," Storms said, "because there is not remotely enough accountability for what's happened in terms of the loss of Mr. Frazier's life. If cities are going to continue to loosen the ability for chases to occur, we need the state to step in and have stricter laws and they should do so in the name of Leneal Frazier."
Frazier's daughter, Lanesha Frazier, wore sunglasses in front of the judge to hide her tears. But her wails couldn't be concealed. "That was my best friend and now I don't have him anymore because of this man," she said.
"I'm asking today for this man to go to jail. Why should he be out here free while we're out here suffering? I see my dad in a urn and he's still alive."
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said in a statement that her thoughts are with the Frazier family. "I cannot imagine their continued pain and grief, knowing their loved one's life was wrongfully taken by someone sworn to protect them.
"Community members expect that those empowered to enforce the law will not callously disregard the lives of others when they do so."