Perhaps the most basic reason for police not to engage in a car chase is the potential for harm to innocent bystanders. And for a 28-year-old guy, that harm came to pass when he swerved to avoid a collision.
City officials said Wednesday morning they have “serious concerns” about how police handled the pursuit that began sometime around 11 p.m. in the Greenville section of the city and ended about six miles away with an innocent man fighting for his life.
Leo Pinkston, 48, has been charged with aggravated assault and eluding in the crash. Police fired multiple shots at Pinkston about a mile down the road before the crash.
What made cops chase Pinkston isn’t clear, although they wanted him badly enough to shoot at his moving car. You know, like the movies, except this wasn’t in the movies.
According to the Jersey City Police Department’s guidelines, officers should not fire from or at moving vehicles unless “there exists an imminent danger or death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another person” and when “no other means are available at that time to avert or eliminate the danger.”
Additionally, the use of deadly force is justified when an officer feels there is “imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.” Shooting at a fleeing suspect is only acceptable when the individual “caused or attempted to cause death or serious bodily injury,” poses an “imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury should the escape succeed,” and when there is “no substantial risk of injury to innocent persons.”
Of course, the justification tends to move in a beautiful circle, as a guy flees police pursuit, thus presenting a danger to others, thus giving rise to an imminent danger to others which justifies shooting to prevent that danger. Of course, there was the “other means” available, which was not pursuing the guy.
Not only did Pinkston present a risk of harm to “innocent persons,” but that harm came to pass, when the innocent West New York man swerved, resulting in a fiery crash. And this was caught on video.
Yes, the innocent man was on fire. Yes, the cops approached with guns drawn, just in case the innocent man came too close to an officer and singed his medals. Yes, rather than assist the innocent burning victim, they kicked him in the head.
The video, obtained by Univision and shared with The Jersey Journal, shows the 28-year-old man emerge from a burning car with parts of his body covered in flames. He is seen rolling on the ground to put out the flames. At the same time, more than half a dozen officers, many with their guns drawn, surround the man.
At least one cop in the video is seen forcefully kicking him in the head and neck area. Other officers are seen stomping on parts of his body.
Apparently, the police were unclear that the burning man wasn’t Pinkston, who they decided deserved to burn, plus get kicked in the head, but the innocent bystander. In their ignorance, they just couldn’t let a good stomping opportunity be wasted.
“Our investigators have reviewed the video and we believe with certainty that this man is the bystander from West New York who suffered burns, not Leo Pinkston, the individual pursued by police,” Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said in a statement.
Much as the fact that this was an entirely innocent bystander makes the video more outrageous, would it have been otherwise acceptable if this had been Pinkston aflame? Well, First Rule of Policing notwithstanding, of course.
Yet, even with the certainty that this was an innocent person, reaching the conclusion that stomping on a burning man isn’t heroic police work remains elusive.
“We have serious concerns about the conduct of this pursuit, however, we are reserving judgment until the conclusion of the prosecutor’s investigation,” said Morrill, who declined to comment specifically on the video.
Not just “concerns,” but “serious” ones. And yet, they are reserving judgment, as the innocent man remains in the hospital fighting for his life. Rushing to the defense of these officers who could well have been traumatized by killing the innocent man, the union president has called for calm.
No cops have been suspended in connection with the chase, Carmine Disbrow, president of the Jersey City Police Officer’s Benevolent Association, said. He criticized Public Safety Director Jim Shea’s decision to confiscate new police SUVs from the district’s involved in the pursuit.
“As it should be, this entire incident is being fully investigated,” said Carmine Disbrow, president of the JCPOBA. “Taking swift action isn’t always elegant, but this video clearly shows that the officers acted quickly to extinguish the flames, and pull this man out of harm’s way.”
The only question remaining is whether the officers deserve a medal for their bravery in not hurting their feet while stomping on the burning man. On the bright side, there were no shots fired at the 28-year-old such that other innocent bystanders might have been killed as they protected and served.
Update: Jersey City officials now say they want to fire the cops involved.
H/T Chris Halkides