A Minneapolis police officer was driving nearly 80 mph on residential streets when he struck Leneal Frazier's SUV this summer while pursuing a suspected stolen vehicle, resulting in Frazier's death, according to criminal charges filed Friday.
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office charged officer Brian Cummings with second-degree manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide for striking the vehicle Frazier was driving on July 6 and killing him, a rare set of charges to be filed against a police officer in Minnesota.
Cummings, 37, of Minneapolis, was booked into the Hennepin County jail shortly before noon Friday and released about 90 minutes later. No bail was required and he was charged via summons, meaning he was allowed to turn himself in to be booked and released.
County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office charged both counts "to make sure that everyone knows how serious we think this is, because the conduct was so egregious. I want to make sure there's a guilty verdict here."
Freeman said he didn't know whether his office had ever previously charged an officer for their role in a pursuit.
Cummings' attorney, Thomas Plunkett, issued a written statement extending condolences to Frazier's family and stating that he would raise a "vigorous defense." He noted the stolen car had been taken in a "violent carjacking" and that it was linked to a crime spree that included at least four "violent criminal acts that same night."
"At this point in the case we still face many questions about the details," Plunkett said. Cummings has fully cooperated with the investigation, he said.
Attorneys for Frazier's family, Ben Crump and Jeff Storms, said in a statement that the family is "grateful" for the charges in what they called "the reckless killing."
"We commend the Hennepin County Attorney's Office for having the courage to hold law enforcement accountable in this instance," they said. "No innocent civilian should ever lose their life because of unwarranted high-speed chases in residential neighborhoods."
They added: "High-speed pursuit policies in Minneapolis and across America must be better written and stringently enforced to protect innocent civilians. This is only the first step in getting full justice for the Frazier family in this tragic and preventable loss."
Records show that Frazier's family filed a notice of claim against the city in early July, a precursor for a possible wrongful-death lawsuit.
Contrary to Plunkett's assertion, Freeman said the suspected crimes involved neither violence nor guns and that Cummings would have known that. Freeman said the stolen vehicle, a Kia Sportage, was taken by two young men who grabbed the keys out of a woman's hand. No weapon was seen, he said, and neither suspect was ever caught. They were thought to have later robbed two Subway restaurants by hopping over the counter and taking cash.
The charges said the thefts involved "some limited use of force," but that there were no reports of weapons or physical harm.
"Although I'm not condoning the conduct, my argument is and will continue to be that before such speedy chases are done they have to be violent crimes," Freeman said. "There is no reasonable person, no reasonable cop that would drive 90 miles per hour in residential neighborhoods late at night."
A Minneapolis police spokesman said that Cummings was still with the department as of Thursday, adding that his specific assignment wasn't public information. The department did not have an update Friday.
Cummings joined the department in 2008, primarily working in the 3rd Precinct with stints in the 4th and 1st, according to his personnel file. Police records show he has been the subject of at least 15 civilian complaints, all of them closed without discipline. He also has received several commendations, including one for saving a woman who was trying to jump off a bridge onto Interstate 94.
Mayor Jacob Frey issued a written statement saying he respected Freeman's decision.
"As a city and a community, we are united in a shared hope the impending court proceedings bring justice and closure for Leneal Frazier's family as they continue to navigate their grief in the wake of this tragedy," Frey said.
According to the charges filed Friday:
Cummings' pursuit of the stolen vehicle covered 20 city blocks, including residential streets. The stolen Kia, running stop signs and red lights, was traveling about 100 mph when it crossed a red light at an intersection in north Minneapolis and nearly struck Frazier's Jeep.
The suspects, followed by Cummings with his lights and siren activated, were heading north on N. Lyndale Avenue as Frazier, westbound on 41st Avenue, approached the intersection. He was driving about 25 mph, the posted speed limit, and had a green light.
Cummings was driving about 90 mph when he entered the intersection and struck the driver's side of Frazier's SUV at about 78 mph. It would have taken Cummings 337 feet to come to a stop and avoid a crash while driving 90 mph, according to the charges.
Frazier had a partially obstructed view of traffic traveling north on Lyndale because of an apartment building on the corner, and northbound traffic would have had an obstructed view of vehicles heading west on 41st Avenue. However, northbound traffic had a clear view of the red light at the intersection.
The accident reconstruction team concluded that the collision could be "attributed to the Defendant for failure to operate his vehicle with due regard for the safety of other motorists," the charges said.
A police report on the crash released earlier said the collision pushed Frazier's vehicle into a minivan stopped at a red light facing south and then into a Metro Transit bus shelter before it came to a rest.
Frazier, 40, of St. Paul, was taken to a hospital, where staffers were able to get a pulse before he "suddenly coded," the report said. Cummings and the minivan driver were slightly injured.
Frazier was the uncle of Darnella Frazier, the young woman whose cellphone video of George Floyd's death in May 2020 helped convict fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murder. Darnella on Friday wrote "I love you uncle," followed by a heart emoji, under a news account of the charges posted on Facebook.
Family, friends and supporters memorialized Frazier at a funeral service in late July. They recalled his penchant for quoting scripture and his love for his grandchild, rap music and barbecue.
Minneapolis police said at the time of the incident that Cummings' pursuit "fit the criteria" laid out in department pursuit guidelines. However, Frey announced the city would again review the policy, which says police may not initiate a pursuit and must end one if it "poses an unreasonable risk to the officers, the public or passengers of the vehicle being pursued who may be unwilling participants."
While officers once were given discretion to pursue suspects for certain property crimes, police pursuits in Minneapolis now are allowed only for serious and violent felonies or gross misdemeanors including murder and attempted murder, violent sex crimes, kidnapping, carjacking and arson.
Over the years, Freeman said, his office has weighed charges in other pursuits, notably in 2013 when a motorcyclist was struck and killed by a Minneapolis police squad car. In that case, he said, the officer approached the intersection with greater caution.
That officer was following policy, Freeman said, but the Cummings case was different.
"You can't drive that fast, you can't run a red light, you just can't do those things," he said, adding: "Cummings' conduct was so egregious that it deserved to be charged."
Staff writers Paul Walsh and Liz Navratil contributed to this report.