In late June, a Richardson police officer was in a car chase trying to catch four juveniles speeding away in a 2009 black Cadillac. When the Cadillac approached the intersection of Belt Line and Bowser Roads, the 16-year-old driver zipped through a red stoplight.
The young driver collided with a minivan driven by a 74-year-old woman. Her van then struck a third vehicle. The 74-year-old, taken to the hospital, died that night.
Four days later, Police Chief Gary L. Tittle released an updated pursuit policy. Richardson police are no longer allowed to engage in car chases based on traffic stops or other offenses that warrant only a Class C misdemeanor citation.
The driver is charged with murder, evading arrest, endangering a child and causing injury to a child, police records show. Others in the car were ages 11, 12 and 13. Because the accused is charged as a juvenile, court records are sealed.
Richardson police are already engulfed in controversy over an alleged illegal traffic ticket quota system.
Using the state open records law, The Watchdog is able to put much of this car chase story together.
If this police department wanted to share news of this June 27 incident, it could have easily done so. Instead, they pushed my open records request to the Texas Attorney General’s office for a ruling, a delaying tactic.
The department also could have followed its normal procedure and put out a news release, as it does with most traffic-related deaths within the city limits. Their releases announce the name, age and gender of victims of traffic fatalities. But no release or announcement was made in this case.
When I asked Police Lt. Teddy Yoshida, RPD spokesperson, about this, he said: “It is normally our intent and practice to share information about traffic accident fatalities promptly when such incidents occur. Since the victim here passed hours later and was expected to survive the crash according to the original report, we did not post a news release in this case.”
But they could have.
Lawyer Eric M. Roberson of Dallas, who represents both police chiefs and police officers in legal matters, tells The Watchdog: “It’s highly unusual. Police departments are supposed to be responsive to their citizens. And when the conduct of a police department wrongfully causes the death of one of their citizens and they change their policies because of it, the citizens have a right to know.”
Roberson, who represents two Richardson officers suing the department after they blew the whistle on the alleged ticket quota, continued: “The fact that someone died in a police chase that caused them to change their policy, and they haven’t told the citizens of Richardson is, to me, quite surprising.”
On the Richardson police website, it states: “The Richardson Police Department believes transparency is vital to a successful community–police relationship.”
But when The Watchdog asked for records of the accident, the city appealed the request to the attorney general, saying that because a juvenile was involved, the privacy of that teen must, by law, be protected.
I then wrote an appeal letter to the attorney general. The attorney general’s office ruled partly in my favor and ordered the release of a six-page accident report.
The six pages had 73 redactions, but enough information was in there that I could begin to put the pieces together.
I contacted the family of the victim (which I traced through a vehicle ID number from the report), but a family member said the family did not want to comment.
I also tried to contact the driver of the third car but didn’t hear back.
When I put in a second open records request seeking body cam recordings, notes and other information, the city, once again, pushed it to the A.G.’s office.
Richardson city attorney Joseph J. Gorfida Jr., in a Nov. 1 letter to The Watchdog, stated that the city hopes to deny my follow-up request for more information reports based on privacy reasons. I will appeal again.
The city’s open records specialist, Marisa Martinez, wrote the attorney general that juvenile crime records “may not be disclosed to the public.” The city also said release of records would reveal to the public too much about its operations and could disclose “weaknesses in patrol and investigative operations.”
Interview requests to the Dallas County District Attorney’s juvenile crimes division, Richardson City Manager Don Magner, Mayor Paul Voelker and Tittle went unanswered.
New pursuit policy
After two requests, the department sent me the updated pursuit policy.
Police spokesperson Yoshida told me, “A change to this policy was being evaluated prior to the event.” The June 27 incident “was one of several factors in the final decision to move forward with implementation of the new policy.”
The new part of the policy states: “Officers must consider the nature of the offense committed by the offender. Most vehicle pursuits are initiated because of traffic violations. These violators, if apprehended, often receive minor penalties. There is no reasonable justification for endangering human life, or even property, merely to apprehend a traffic violator.
“Officers are prohibited from engaging in vehicle pursuits resulting solely from Class C traffic offenses, regional warrant hits or city ordinance violations.”
In this case, I have yet to learn details of the originating traffic stop with the juveniles.
Also, the police spokesperson told me that, in answer to my question, “No money has been paid to the victim’s family in this incident.”
The veteran officer involved in the chase, Andrew Kviz, did not respond to my email.
I asked the city for any recent notations in his personnel file, and the city sent me his appraisal. He received good marks for diligence, problem-solving skills and leadership. He serves as a training officer.
Because the department is already under scrutiny, taking a battering over the ticket quota lawsuit, did leaders decide to hold back news of this incident because they fear more negative attention?
The Watchdog salutes the department’s pledge that “transparency is vital to a successful community-police relationship.”
I don’t see it here.
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