Albany, N.Y. -- As chase policies are reviewed, grand jury likely to hear the Scaringe case, prosecutor says
By KATE GURNETT, Albany Times Union
City officials will review their policy on police chases after officers fired into a busy intersection, killing one bystander and grazing another on New Year's Eve.
"That's something we have to look at," Mayor Jerry Jennings said Friday. "I'm not going to say our policy is wrong, but if (Chief) Bob Wolfgang feels we should fine-tune it, then we will."
Police shot at an unarmed Delmar man after chasing his vehicle on State Street early Wednesday afternoon. An errant bullet hit and killed engineer David R.A. Scaringe, 24, who was walking along Lark Street near his home. Shawn Brozowski, 26, was also struck, but not seriously injured, as he swept the sidewalk in front of McGuire's Restaurant at Lark and State streets.
A score of Center Square residents and visitors saw the incident, as Officers Joseph Gerace and William Bonanni trying to stop a car driven by Daniel Reed fired eight shots. A ballistics test to determine whose bullet hit Scaringe, and a blood test for drugs and alcohol on Reed, 32, should be complete in a few days, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Detective James Miller.
Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne said the case will likely be presented to a grand jury; both officers have been assigned to desk duty pending an internal police investigation.
The shooting probe will "coincide" with a look at the policy for police pursuits, Miller said. "If there's a need, after the investigation, to change the policy, then that will be considered."
City policy requires officers in a chase to weigh their options and consider "present danger." All officers will be held accountable if they continue a chase that should have been discontinued. The dispatcher should broadcast a warning to "use caution, do not unreasonably endanger the lives of the public or fellow officers," the policy states.
Miller would not comment on policy was followed in Wednesday's shooting.
Across the country, bystander deaths and multimillion-dollar lawsuits have prompted many cities to examine the risk of chasing criminals. Half the nation's police agencies revised their policies from 1995 to 1997, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Many, like Los Angeles and Miami, now restrict chases to violent felons, said Geoffrey Alpert, director of research for the College of Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina.
Police pursuits end in crashes 40 percent of the time, in injury 20 percent of the time and in death 1 percent of the time, Alpert said. One third of chase-related fatalities are bystanders, he said.
Albany police are not restricted to violent offenders. But during a pursuit, officers must "continually question" if the violation is serious enough to warrant the chase, department policy states. A pursuit "shall be discontinued when there is an exceptional danger to the public and/or the pursuing officers," it states.
Of the 384 deaths logged by police pursuits in 2002, two were in New York state, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records. Nine New Yorkers died in 2001; seven in 2000, data show. The numbers "don't change much from year to year," NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd said.
Chases "have been around since the days of the covered wagon (and) back then there wasn't any danger, but now with cars and pedestrians and innocent bystanders," the risks are higher, Alpert said. For a dedicated police officer, protecting public safety usually means "chasing the bad guy," Alpert said. "Sometimes protecting public safety means doing nothing. And that's a tough pill to swallow."
The problem with chasing suspects, particularly those who are intoxicated, Alpert said, is that they "make very bad decisions." While police control their own vehicle, they can't control the fleeing suspect. "If you think about it, someone who is not driving well at 30 or 40 (mph) ... what's his driving going to be like at 50 or 60 (mph)? So now, the level of risk to the public has increased."
Police said they stopped Reed at 4 p.m. Wednesday for driving erratically and having a stolen license plate. Reed has a history of driving offenses. When he sped off, police said, they followed for several blocks, driving to Lark and State streets, where Reed drove onto the sidewalk, then slammed into reverse as Gerace and other officers ran toward him, firing eight shots.
Scaringe, meanwhile, was walking down the block at 4:30 p.m. when one shot tore through his chest. The 1997 Colonie Central High graduate was planning to attend a New Year's Eve party three blocks away.
Reed ran off and was eventually tracked to his home. He was arraigned in City Court on Thursday on two felony counts of reckless endangerment. Reached at home Friday, Reed's mother declined comment. "It's a really difficult time," she said.
Other area police chases have ended in death or injury. Police shot and killed an Oneonta man in 2002, after an hourlong chase that began when John Clune robbed a Colonie bank. The year before, a high-speed chase in Albany sent a Honda crashing into an Arbor Hill home. In 1997, Timothy Sousie, 17, crashed and died during a police chase in Brunswick.
In 1996, John J. Kelly was shot dead by police in Albany after he pinned a Colonie officer with his vehicle following a 10-car chase in an investigation of a minor hit-and-run.
Juries in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., have awarded multimillion-dollar judgments to families of bystanders killed by a speeding motorist pursued by police.
In May, the state Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled the city of Syracuse is not responsible for the death of Randall Pacelli, 24. Pacelli died in 1994 when his car was struck by another car being chased by police for running a red light.
Police-chase death reports aren't mandatory, and the incidents are significantly underreported, said Alpert, author of a host of books, including "Police Pursuit Driving: Controlling Responses to Emergency Situations (Greenwood Press, 1990). "It's probably closer to 700" a year.
Before any officer fires a weapon, the threat must be severe, Alpert said. By the same token, anyone who flees police should be severely punished and not offered a plea bargain, he said.
Meanwhile, Brozowski, who was grazed in the shooting, is organizing a candlelight vigil for Scaringe at 9 tonight at State and Lark streets. Funeral services for Scaringe are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday at McVeigh Funeral Home, 208 North Allen St., Albany, followed by a Mass at St. Francis de Sales Church in Loudonville.