Family sues Mo. officers over pursuit that killed pastor

Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.

The wife and children of a pastor killed in a February crash by a driver fleeing police sued the officers and the Police Department Tuesday and called for a change in police pursuit policy.

The Rev. Nathaniel Cole, 56, was killed on his way to a church service the evening of Feb. 13 when his Chevy Blazer smashed head-on into a speeding Ford Bronco being pursued by police.

Cole was the pastor at God's Revealing Tabernacle Church for 14 years and had a radio program on KIRL (1460 AM).

Cole's wife, Annie Cole, 55, was critically injured.

The Bronco's driver, Robert E. Smith, 23, died. Prosecutors charged passenger Demetrius Branom, 19, of the 3600 block of North 20th Street, with second-degree murder, assaulting a police officer, armed criminal action and resisting arrest. The other passenger was not charged.

The lawsuit, filed by Annie Cole, daughter Tina Cole and son Elisha Cole in St. Louis Circuit Court, says the department failed to properly train officers to pursue vehicles safely and faults the police policy covering fleeing vehicles.

The suit also says that Officers David King, Joseph Bell and Matthew Elder were negligent and rammed the fleeing vehicle into the Coles' SUV.

Police spokesman Richard Wilkes would not comment on the suit but said there was no contact between officers' cars and the Bronco.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, lawyers representing the Coles said the pursuit began over a minor traffic violation and could have been avoided because police recognized Smith and knew his home address. They could have waited for him there, they said.

They also said police should have stopped the chase when Smith hit another vehicle, before the Blazer.

The chase started after a traffic stop at 14th and Salisbury streets.

According to a copy of the police report supplied by the Cole family lawyers, police pulled the Bronco over for reckless driving. Smith was pulling a gun from his waistband as Officer King approached, and pointed it at King after being "startled," according to the report.

The Bronco took off, and Branom fired at the pursuing officers, according to the report. Police estimated the Bronco's speed at 70 to 80 mph.

Annie Cole is uninsured and has endured six surgeries, about a month in the hospital and more time in a nursing home, Elisha Cole said. She has to use a wheelchair, he said.

About 300 people attended a fundraiser in March, and a trust fund has been set up at Bank of America.

Lawyer Andy Crouppen said the suit was not about money but about getting the department to "review, revise and reform" the rules and regulations on police chases.

Police Chief Joe Mokwa could not be reached for comment.

In February, Mokwa said, "We've got one of the most restrictive police pursuit policies around, but if someone threatens an officer, or a citizen, with deadly force, then we have to stop that person."

Mokwa revised the policy in 2002 after concerns over accidents during police chases.

The current policy says, in part, "Vehicle pursuits may be initiated when the officer has reason to believe that the suspect has committed a felony involving the use or threatened use of deadly force and a delay in apprehending the suspect(s) will pose a danger to other people."

According to federal data, 170 people in Illinois and 86 in Missouri died from 1994 to 2004 in crashes that in some way involved a police pursuit. 
Cole Killed Feb. 13 
May 24, 2006

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