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Officials decry multicar chase

Deputies pursued a man at more than 100 mph on Sunday. Sheriff's officials say that's against their policy.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001


Two sheriff's employees have been counseled for their part in a high-speed chase that officials say unnecessarily put lives in danger.

Deputies should not have pursued a driver who had an expired tag and refused to pull over when an officer tried to stop him at 1:45 p.m. Sunday, said sheriff's spokeswoman Deanna Dammer. During the chase, which reached more than 100 mph, the driver ran several lights at busy intersections along State Road 50, and a deputy following him crashed into another car.

No one was seriously hurt and the fleeing man eventually was taken to jail. But the incident has caused authorities to review their chase policies with the entire department.

"Given the time of day and the circumstances, we should not have continued to pursue," Dammer said.

According to policy, deputies "will exercise good judgment, carefully weighing the necessity of pursuit and apprehension against the risk involved. . . . Sheriff's Office vehicles will not continue in pursuit if it becomes clear that the risk of collision with innocent motorists or pedestrians outweighs the seriousness of the violation."

Dammer said Sunday's chase violated this policy.

Deputy William Power, the deputy who initially tried to pull over Garry Edward Grim, 25, of St. Petersburg, stated in his report that Grim was driving "with complete disregard for other motor vehicle safety." After Power's patrol car struck another car as he turned left from SR 50 onto Sunshine Grove Road, at least two other deputies picked up the chase and eventually arrested Grim, who faces charges of fleeing police, resisting arrest, reckless driving and driving with a suspended license.

Agency policy states that only a supervisor can authorize more deputies to continue pursuit. But Dammer said Sgt. Gerard Schneider was newly promoted and didn't know the rule.

"The deputies, at their own discretion, picked up (the chase)," Dammer said. "I don't think (the sergeant) knew he could call it off. These things happen so fast."

Schneider and Power have been counseled, Dammer added.

As part of routine procedure, the Power's accident is being studied by a review board. Sheriff Richard Nugent also plans to examine agency procedure.

"This (issue) is not necessarily resolved," Dammer said.

The subject of police pursuits has been a hot one in the Tampa Bay area recently, after chases by Tampa police have ended in at least 13 deaths since 1995. Five of the victims were innocent bystanders.

In September, two teens were killed as they fled from Tampa police in a car that had been reported stolen by the father of one of the teens. In August, another teenager was killed while fleeing from the Florida Highway Patrol in a stolen Lexus. In April, an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old in a stolen car died after their car hit a tree and flipped as they fled from police.

Tampa policy, adopted in 1995 when Mayor Dick Greco took office, allows officers to pursue fleeing vehicles whose drivers are suspected of non-violent crimes, such as auto theft. In contrast, policies for the Florida Highway Patrol and St. Petersburg police allow pursuits only if officers know the driver has been involved in a violent offense.

Hernando policy does not make such a clear-cut distinction, although it states that officers should end the chase if the potential for injury is greater than the seriousness of the offense.

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