Union: Officers told superiors about fatal chase
Two Detroit police special operations officers under investigation for their roles in a fatal high-speed chase immediately filled out reports informing their supervisors about the pursuit, the president of the police officers union said Thursday.
“These officers didn’t try to cover anything up,” Detroit Police Officers Association president Mark Diaz insisted. “They didn’t fail to disclose the chase.”
Police Chief James Craig agreed he doesn’t think officers Stephen Heid and Ron Cadez lied after the incident — but he added the officers violated department policy by engaging in a high-speed pursuit without announcing it over police airwaves and then failing to render first aid after the man they were chasing crashed.
Craig said he suspended Heid and Cadez after reviewing dash-cam footage that showed they initiated the 35-second pursuit Monday without notifying dispatchers, and then drove away after 19-year-old Jerry Bradford slammed his car into a tree. Bradford was pronounced dead at the scene.
“There is no evidence at this point to say these officers lied after the fact,” the chief said. “The issue is: They should not have chased the car in the first place; and they also failed to tell zone dispatch they were involved in a chase. Both are direct violations of our written policies.”
Craig said dash-cam footage showed the officers further violated policy by failing to render aid to Bradford or call for medical help after he crashed. Craig said the video shows the officers continued driving, and then circled back to the scene three minutes later, after a citizen phoned 911 to report the collision.
Craig has launched both internal and criminal probes into the incident. The Board of Police Commissioners on Thursday night was presented with a request to withhold pay from Heid and Cadez during their suspensions. Members said they will have an update at their meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters.
“We presented it and now it’s
up to the board to review and make an assessment,” Assistant Chief James White said.
Diaz insisted Heid and Cadez immediately filled out reports notifying supervisors of the chase.
“They did what they were supposed to, and it’s not fair to say they didn’t disclose the chase,” Diaz said. “If someone from the command structure failed to tell the chief, that’s a different matter. It’s not customary for officers to directly tell the police chief they were involved in a chase.”
When asked about the allegations that the two officers failed to inform dispatchers during the case or help Bradford after he crashed, Diaz said: “I can’t speak to that. There’s still an investigation going on, and it’s completely proper that the chief initiated that investigation. Right now, we don’t have all the facts.
“But if the chief ’s position is that those officers didn’t notify the department about the chase, I know for a fact they filled out the required report in a timely manner,” Diaz said. “There was no attempt to cover it up.”
Craig confirmed he did not talk directly to Heid or Cadez. He said there was a communication breakdown among commanders in the hours after the incident.
“I kept asking ‘was this a chase?’ and even the next morning, I wasn’t getting a straight answer,” the chief said.
Assistant Chief Arnold Williams said he wasn’t able to tell Craig a pursuit had taken place. “When I got the initial notification, no one told me there had been a pursuit,” he said. “So when I told the chief, I still didn’t know exactly what had happened.”
Williams said the captain had already told another commander and internal affairs investigators about the chase.
“Since (the captain) had already told IA and another chief that there had a chase when he talked to me, I don’t think he was purposely trying to keep it from me,” he said. “He did everything right; he just didn’t include the word ‘pursuit’ when he told me about it. So I wasn’t able to tell the chief there’d been a pursuit when we talked the next morning.”
Craig said he became frustrated he wasn’t getting a definitive answer. “I said, ‘ let’s look at the dash-cam,’” he said. “Once we reviewed the tape, it was clear there were policy violations.”
Diaz said the incident has “opened our eyes to a bigger issue: Putting inexperienced officers onto Special Operations details.”
“These were two fairly new police officers,” Diaz said, adding Cadez is only a few months past his one-year probationary period, while Heid just celebrated his third year on the job.
“These were not seasoned veterans, and you want veterans on these special ops details,” Diaz said. “Historically, those units were reserved for experienced officers. The problem is, we’re losing a lot of our experienced officers to departments that pay better, so the precincts are left with young officers.
“Special operations are plainclothes units, so they get a lot closer to crimes in progress than uniformed officers,” Diaz said. “Things move at lightning speed. I’m not making excuses, but the department is putting people into these positions they’re not ready for.
“Certainly, we train to perform at optimal levels, but you need training and experience for some of these positions,” Diaz said. “Also, police officers are human. If you put inexperienced officers into these positions, it’s more likely mistakes are going to be made.”
Craig agreed there is a problem.
“Inexperience is certainly a concern, and I’m going to hold these command officers accountable when they team up two- and three-year police officers in a unit that calls for more experience,” Craig said.
“But make no mistake: That has nothing to do with an officer’s decision to follow policy and make a notification when you’re pursuing somebody so a supervisor can be alerted,” Craig said. “Those are completely separate issues.”
As they sit out their suspensions, Heid and Cadez — who each were awarded a Medal of Honor this year by the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police — could be called to testify in the Oct. 23 murder trial of Marquise Cromer, accused of killing Detroit police Sgt. Kenneth “Shark” Steil last year.
Heid and Cadez were with Steil when he was shot Sept. 12, 2016. They were hunting Cromer, who allegedly had gone on a spree that included shooting his stepdad and a car wash customer.
As officers from the 9th Precinct closed in on Cromer, prosecutors say he opened fire with a shotgun, striking Steil in the shoulder and chest. He later died as he prepared to be released from the hospital.
Cromer’s attorney Sanford Schulman said Thursday Heid and Cadez are on the witness list, though he said he isn’t sure if they’ll be called to testify. “I’m planning an insanity defense, so the officers aren’t the main focus of our defense,” he said.
Heid and Cadez testified during Cromer’s preliminary examination in May. Cadez said he drove Steil to St. John Hospital after he was shot.
Diaz said Thursday Heid and Cadez had no disciplinary history. There are no lawsuits against the officers on file at either Wayne Circuit or U.S. District courts.
“These officers are entitled to the presumption of innocence like everybody else,” Diaz said. “Let’s have a thorough investigation and let the chips fall where they may. But these officers deserve a fair shake while the investigation moves forward.”