Leneal Frazier's family watched with mixed emotions Tuesday afternoon as the Minneapolis police officer who crashed into Frazier's car and killed him appeared in court for the first time.
"I was angry, but I just hope justice will [prevail]," Frazier's mother, Jacqueline Jackson, said afterward. "He needs to be held accountable."
Officer Brian Cummings made a brief first appearance after crashing into Frazier's SUV on July 6 while he pursued a suspected stolen vehicle. Cummings, 37, was charged in October with second-degree manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide, rare charges against a police officer in Minnesota.
Cummings, who is out of custody, appeared via Zoom with his attorney, Thomas Plunkett. Cummings spoke only briefly to tell Hennepin County District Judge Tamara Garcia that he could hear her through the computer. An omnibus hearing was set in his case for Dec. 9, ending the two-minute hearing.
Cummings was charged via summons, which allowed him to turn himself in to be booked at the Hennepin County jail in October and released the same day.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Judith Cole said at Tuesday's hearing that under his release, Cummings must remain law-abiding and attend his court appearances.
Frazier's family members and one of their attorneys, Jeff Storms, spoke about the case afterward in front of City Hall, where Minneapolis police are headquartered. They thanked supporters and the Hennepin County Attorney's Office for charging the case.
"Today as we all stand here, it's indisputable that Leneal Frazier should be alive and here with his family," Storms said. "This was no mere accident. It was something that was preventable. It was something that warranted a criminal investigation. The Hennepin County Attorney's Office showed some courage and did the right thing by charging officer Brian Cummings."
The County Attorney's Office alleges that Cummings was driving 90 mph on residential streets in north Minneapolis when he ran a red light and entered the intersection Frazier was crossing. Cummings struck the driver's side of Frazier's SUV at about 78 mph, according to the charges.
"We just hope that he's going to get convicted," said Frazier's younger sister, Cheryl Frazier. "He wasn't doing his job right. He knows he shouldn't have been driving the way that he was driving."
The family expressed cautious optimism about the case and deep sadness at losing Frazier, 40, of St. Paul.
"We still got a long road ahead of us," Cheryl Frazier said. "None of this stuff will bring my brother back, but I mean it's a step toward justice for him."
Frazier's younger brother, Orlando Frazier, said he looked up to his brother as a mentor.
"My brother was the rock of this family," he said. "It's hard every day not waking up to his smile, him laughing, joking."
Cheryl and Orlando Frazier described their brother as "always happy." They said they would especially miss him around Thanksgiving, because the five siblings and their parents moved to the Twin Cities and have few relatives in the area.
"We was always in the kitchen together," Cheryl Frazier said fondly of her brother at Thanksgiving time. "He was always a great help … he always … thought he could cook better than me, but he can't."
Jackson said Frazier visited her daily. "I miss my son every day," she said.
It's rare to see charges filed against officers in high-speed chases, Storms said. The case against Cummings was "very surprising and shocking" for Frazier's family, who have filed a notice of claim against the city — a precursor for a possible lawsuit. Storms said any possible lawsuit would wait until after the criminal case is resolved.
"We have an example of the criminal justice system actually holding an officer accountable, and we're going to take a step back and watch that happen, because justice for Leneal is by far the most important thing for this family," he said. "Civil justice is another aspect of it, but it's not for today."
According to the charges: Cummings' pursuit of the stolen vehicle covered 20 city blocks. The stolen Kia, running stop signs and red lights, was traveling about 100 mph when it crossed a red light at an intersection and nearly struck Frazier's Jeep.
The suspects in the stolen car and Cummings, who had his lights and siren activated, were heading north on N. Lyndale Avenue. Frazier was driving 25 mph, the posted speed, westbound on 41st Avenue when he entered the intersection on a green light.
Cummings sped through the intersection and struck Frazier's car. Cummings would have had a clear view of the red light, the charges said.
A Minneapolis police spokesman said in late October that Cummings was still with the department and that his assignment wasn't public information. The department did not respond to a question Tuesday about his employment status.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708