Charlotte police chase | wcnc.com

Aerial video of the chase showed the suspect weaving in and out of traffic, driving over curbs and on sidewalks, and going the wrong way multiple times.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A reckless chase that lasted around two hours all over Charlotte ended in a violent crash in South End Wednesday afternoon. 

The incident started as a residential breaking and entering call where the suspect allegedly stole a Jeep, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said. During the chase, the suspect stole three additional vehicles, including a carjacking after a crash near the Ballantyne Hotel. The driver, who has not been identified by CMPD, drove erratically across Mecklenburg County and into South Carolina at one point.

Aerial video of the chase showed the suspect weaving in and out of traffic, driving over curbs and on sidewalks, and going the wrong way multiple times.

RELATED WCNC CHARLOTTE INVESTIGATION: CMPD rush-hour pursuit leaves young mother dead, new father injured

During the chase, the driver went as far north as Sunset Road and Interstate 77 and as far south as South Carolina Highway 160 and U.S. 521 in Lancaster County. The suspect was involved in several crashes, including a head-on collision on Johnston Road at Ballantyne Commons Parkway in south Charlotte. 

The suspect was seen jumping out of the vehicle and walking over to the car he crashed into before running to a black SUV and forcing his way in through a passenger-side door. 

The suspect then led officers into south Charlotte, through Myers Park and into Dilworth. 

In a late-day briefing Wednesday, Jennings said officers in marked police vehicles began pursuing the suspect after that crash in Ballantyne, which they believed to be carjacking with someone else inside. Prior to that crash, despite three earlier car thefts and erratic driving, Jennings said officers were using helicopters to track the suspect.

“I will say that our policy was followed precisely,” Jennings said in response to a question about why the driver went so long without being stopped. “Our goal is that nobody dies and everybody gets to go home and nobody has serious injuries. That’s exactly what occurred today.”

As the suspect drove back north in Charlotte after stealing that fourth car,  a vigilante in a silver pickup truck rammed the suspect’s SUV multiple times from behind. The suspect was able to get away before crashing at the intersection of East Boulevard and South Boulevard minutes later. He was taken into custody by CMPD officers immediately. 

VERIFY: Could good Samaritans face charges for trying to help police?

At one point in the chase, the driver of a pickup truck tried to stop the suspect himself, ramming the suspect’s vehicle with his own.

“It was just my instinct to intervene,” the driver of the pickup truck told WCNC Charlotte after the chase ended. CMPD had warned against civilians taking such actions, tweeting that people should not try to engage with the suspect.

THE QUESTION

Can a person face charges for intervening in a police pursuit?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Yes, a person can face charges for intervening in a police pursuit.

WHAT WE FOUND

North Carolina law details obstruction of justice, writing: “If any person shall willfully and unlawfully resist, delay, or obstruct a public officer in discharging or attempting to discharge an official duty, the person is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor.”

McCartan said whether prosecutors actually pursue charges comes down to the situation.

“You want to encourage people to help do the right thing, but you’ve got to be smart about it,” McCartan said. “In a lot of these situations, you’ll see somebody engage in a high-speed chase, thinking that they’re going to be able to help law enforcement officer, and meanwhile, the cops are like, ‘I got this thing, if you get out of my way.'”

He also said a person’s motives could weigh into the decision.

“There has to be some level of criminal intent if they’re going to start charging people with a crime,” McCartan said.

During a Wednesday afternoon briefing on the pursuit, Chief Jennings said the man who intervened in this particular case was not facing charges.

CMPD pursuit investigation

Coincidentally, WCNC Charlotte has spent months investigating the impact of police pursuits on innocent bystanders. On Tuesday, WCNC Charlotte published “In Pursuit,” which revealed the number of CMPD pursuits has more than quadrupled over the last decade.

Lt. Steve Fischbach said CMPD expects its officers to only pursue a driver for a crime that is dangerous to life. In fact, the department just recently revised its pursuit policy to limit police pursuits to only two circumstances:  when they believe a driver or passenger has committed or is attempting to commit a crime dangerous to life or if officers believe there’s a greater harm to the public if they’re not stopped.

“Everyone involved in these pursuits has to ask themselves, ‘Is the offense that the person committed or is wanted for or the harm that they pose to the public, is it worth the risk of the actual pursuit itself?” Fischbach said in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s publication. “That’s the balancing act. We’re constantly having to balance the need for us to apprehend those dangerous people up against the inherent risk of a police pursuit.”

The agency’s updated pursuit policy is slightly more restrictive than the previous policy but still allows for officer discretion.

“Every case is different and again, that’s where we have to rely on our officers and our supervisors in those specific pursuits to make the right decision,” Lt. Fischbach said.

WCNC Charlotte’s investigation identified two innocent bystanders killed in as many weeks at the beginning of 2022 as a consequence of CMPD pursuits. Both of those pursuits originated with traffic stops.

In one of the cases, officers tried to stop a man driving a Jeep with a covered, but still visible license plate. He eventually crashed into another car, killing Brittany Webb and severely injuring Aaron Norward.

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There’s a national push for police departments to be more restrained when it comes to pursuits. The organization Pursuit Safety only thinks police should give chase when there’s a violent felony involved. Lt. Fischbach previously told WCNC Charlotte that CMPD is always open to feedback.

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