Grieving family seeks reform
Protests encourage citizens not to run from police stops
A Southern Maryland family has taken its pain and turned it into purpose through peaceful protest.
“No chase. No run. Everybody goes home,” chants Aubrey Robinson of Accokeek, at the busy intersection of routes 4 and 231 at 5 p.m. in Prince Frederick on July 29.
His son, Tabias Robinson, 24, died from injuries suffered in an automobile accident after fleeing from an unmarked police car April 4.
Robinson was joined by a dozen family members and supporters seeking to reform police policy around high-speed pursuits, as well as encourage citizens not to run from the police.
“We are not only protesting the chase; we are protesting the run,” added Robinson. “It’s just a matter of time before someone innocent gets hurt.”
According to an April 4 Maryland State Police press release, the high-speed pursuit started after 12:30 a.m. on Route 4 in Solomons and ended at the St. Mary’s Fairgrounds in Leonardtown. The trooper “observed a southbound BMW following another car and failing to dim its headlights. As the car passed he also saw the vehicle had no working tag light.”
Elena Russo from MSP’s Office of Media Communications confirmed with The Calvert Recorder that the trooper on duty working speed enforcement was in an unmarked MSP patrol vehicle.
“The initial stop was on the tag light, but he didn’t stop because he had not seen his probation officer. That’s why he ran,” explained Robinson, who said that his son was on probation for a misdemeanor possession of marijuana from five years earlier.
“I wish he had just called me instead of run. I would have picked him up,” lamented Robinson, who has a host of concerns surrounding the pursuit that occurred on a rainy night and what he categorizes as delayed and inappropriate medical care for Tabias. “There ain’t nothing I can do to bring my son back, but if I can do something to keep other people safe, then I will.”
So armed with a bull horn, Robinson tries via area protests to discourage the chasing by police and the running by citizens. This one was his third, following one in St. Mary’s and a prior one in Prince Frederick. More are planned for the Southern Maryland region.
At an adjacent corner on July 29 is his niece, Crystal Chase, who was protesting out of concern of the extent of the chase. “I’m not saying [Tabias] was perfect, but to chase him 15 miles over a tag light being out,” Chase paused. “We’ve all done something in our past that we are not proud of, but that doesn’t mean we should be chased for 15 miles until we crash and die.”
Chase has participated in the earlier protests and said people have said some very mean-spirited things to her family during the protests and on social media. Her response: “I hope your child never has a situation where they make the wrong choice to run from the police.”
“A lot of the young African-American males are afraid to stop. They are scared for their life and they don’t know how it is going to go if they get pulled over. Is it going to be a bad police officer or a good police officer?” said Shanick Chase of Waldorf, protesting with her daughter, Malia, 13, and son, Jayden, 7, safely on the sidewalk in front of a mattress store. “It’s not just here; it’s everywhere.”
Robinson said he recently witnessed a high-speed chase involving a motorcycle and Calvert County sheriff’s deputies reportedly topping 140 mph on Route 4. “Stop the highspeed chase. There’s too much at risk,” said Robinson. “All they could get him for is fleeing and eluding and a speeding ticket and that is not worth a life.” He has found in his research that departments in neighboring jurisdictions Prince George’s and Anne Arundel have a two-mile pursuit limit.
Since his son’s death, he reports there have been five different police chases in the tri-county area. He suggest today’s technology allows law enforcement departments to put drones in the air to track suspects when the chase becomes a danger to the public.
“Stop the running — the vehicle will become a weapon,” counters Robinson, in his effort to encourage young guys to just stop.
Bystander Sirquron Brooks of Lusby knows all too well what could happen in a high-speed chase. In late March, Brooks was sitting in his car at the intersection of Route 231 and Prince Frederick Boulevard, after leaving Calvert Library Prince Frederick, when a suspect driving a truck in a highspeed chase involving Calvert deputies hit a pole and flipped over onto his car.
“I could have died,” said Brooks, who reported incurring injuries to his back, leg and neck and was released from the hospital the next day. “The police almost hit me. There was too much traffic for police to chase him on that one-lane road.”
The accident was caught on an episode of “Live PD.” “There ain’t enough crime in this county for Live PD,” said Robinson, suggesting the show has encouraged rogue behavior and risky practices in the department.
“No run, no chase — in that order. We are in agreement in that,” said Capt. Dave Payne of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, in an interview with the Recorder. “We rather see no running, no chasing, no deaths on the road.”
Payne did not have information regarding Brooks’ accident at the time of the interview, but he did share the department’s extensive policy on pursuits, which permits “deputies to engage in extended/high-speed vehicle pursuit when it is necessary to apprehend a violator of the laws of this State.” However, the policy does list limiting factors that affect the decision to begin and continue the pursuit, to include the nature of the offense, traffic density and danger to the public.
“Minus all those factors, the supervisor or deputy that is in pursuit has the right to abandon it,” explained Payne. Elements a deputy can consider when abandoning a chase include if the risk to the deputy and the public is unnecessarily high, the risk is inconsistent with the severity of the violation and the highway and environmental conditions are not conducive to a continued safe pursuit.
“The decision regarding whether to initiate a pursuit occurs at the point when a trooper has a reasonable belief that the driver of the subject vehicle is knowingly failing to stop in response to a trooper’s visual and audible signals,” reads an excerpt on MSP’s policy on pursuits, shared by Russo with the Recorder. It was not clear at press time what their factors are for abandoning a pursuit.
While Tabias’ dad has channeled his grief into policy change, his mother, Tammy Byrd, is struggling to come to terms with her son’s death. She attended Saturday’s protest, but sat back quietly in a parking lot, lending moral support from afar while watching over her 5-year-old granddaughter, Harmony — Tabias’ only child.
Harmony said a prayer for her father, while she blessed her food, and then began to chant “no chase — no run, everybody comes home.”
“I can’t eat. I can’t sleep,” Byrd said tearfully, adding that she leans on Isaiah 30:15 for strength, especially when people are unkind about the circumstances of her son’s death. “Everybody has a comment, but nobody [else] has lost their child.”
Crystal Chase of St. Leonard protests against high-speed police chases and runs at the intersection of Route 231 and Route 4 in Prince Frederick on Saturday. In the distance, other protesters flank the opposite corners holding signs demanding police pursuit reform.
Aubrey Robinson of Accokeek protests against high-speed police chases and runs at the intersection of Route 231 and Route 4 in Prince Frederick. Robinson’s son, Tabias, died during a police chase in April. His sister, Aleta Chase of St. Leonard, stands in the distance holding a sign.
From left, Octavia Ford, Malia Speight and Jayden Bowman hold up signs to protest against high-speed police chases and runs in the tri-county area.