05/06/2007

Fla. teen shot in two-county police chase

Editor's Note -- In this and two other recent incidents, officers were confronted with dangerous teenagers, two 15-year-olds and two 16-year-olds. These incidents serve as reminders that teenagers can—and in instances like these, do—pose a serious threat to police and innocent civilians. Young does not mean “harmless.” Keep your tactical awareness high, regardless of who you’re dealing with, and never let your guard down.


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By Tonya Alanez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel 
 
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — The Pontiac closely resembled a stolen car. The driver led Fort Lauderdale police on a high-speed, two-county chase along Interstate 95 Friday night. During a "violent struggle," an officer's gun was fired, critically wounding the 15-year-old driver.

Turns out the car wasn't stolen, and the boy's family says he was shot in the back while he lay on the ground.

Fort Lauderdale police are investigating whether pursuit and use-of-force policies were followed in the incident, which also resulted in a 16-year-old passenger being shocked with a stun gun. Criminal charges against the teens have not been filed and their names have not been released.

The officer whose gun was discharged has been placed on a standard 72-hour administrative leave, police said. His name also was withheld, and police would not say whether he actually fired the shot.

"The officers had every single reason to believe they had the right car," said Sgt. Frank Sousa, a spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

The boy's uncle, Shaun Sands, said he heard from witnesses that his nephew was on the ground when he was shot in the "back, upper right shoulder."

He said his nephew, who lives with him, is on a ventilator with a collapsed lung, internal bleeding and kidney and liver damage.

Sands, a firefighter and paramedic with the city of Plantation, said he had no idea why his nephew would lead police on a chase.

"We're sad and disappointed that this has happened again," said Sands, referring to a string of recent police shootings. "When it hits home, it hurts a little bit harder."

Police first noticed the car, a light-colored Pontiac with tinted windows, late Friday night on northbound Interstate 95 near Sunrise Boulevard, Sousa said.

The car fit the description of one of the vehicles stolen earlier in the day during an armed robbery at E Z Go Car Sales in the 800 block of Northeast First Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. After that robbery, a bulletin went out alerting police about the "armed and dangerous" culprits.

When police tried to pull the car over on I-95, it took off and the pursuit began.

Several police agencies joined the pursuit. The Pontiac exited and entered the interstate several times, Sousa said. Speeds exceeded 100 miles per hour, and the Pontiac exited at Yamato Road in Palm Beach County, turned around and headed back south, he said.

The chase ended around 11 p.m. when the Pontiac crashed into another car near Cypress Creek Road and spun out.

When several officers approached the Pontiac, Sousa said a "violent struggle took place" and "a round was discharged," wounding the driver in the shoulder.

The driver was rushed to Broward General Medical Center, where he underwent surgery and remains in critical condition. The passenger is cooperating with police and is not in custody, Sousa said.

Charges are pending the outcome of the investigation.

Broward Sheriff's deputies told Fort Lauderdale police Saturday morning they had recovered the stolen Pontiac.

The Fort Lauderdale police department has been under scrutiny at both the community and federal levels after several police-related deaths over the past year and a half.

Fort Lauderdale police shot and killed four suspects in 2006, the most fatal police shootings in at least seven years. A July police shooting drew criticism from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which successfully requested the FBI investigate the police department's use of force policies and practices. That investigation continues.

The department's pursuit and use-of-force policies say an officer can chase a suspect who has committed a violent crime, such as robbery, or if the suspect is endangering lives by fleeing. An officer can shoot if he or she thinks the suspects are endangering lives.

The criticism over police-related deaths continued this year with the April death of Donald Perry, 49. He was struck by an unmarked police cruiser on Sistrunk Boulevard. The officers were responding to what was thought to be a shooting in a nearby park. Perry's death is still under investigation by police and the Broward State Attorney's Office.

Staff Writer Brian Haas contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 South Florida Sun-Sentinel

In this and two other recent incidents, officers were confronted with dangerous teenagers, two 15-year-olds and two 16-year-olds. These incidents serve as reminders that teenagers can – and in instances this these, do—pose a serious threat to police and innocent civilians. Young does not mean “harmless.” Keep your tactical awareness high, regardless of who you’re dealing with, and never let your guard down.

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