NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A witness says he was walking near Toledano and Johnson Wednesday night (March 20) when three district patrol cars drove past him, lights and sirens on.
“The whole chase passed me clean up…They passed me up - the police passed me up the next block and a half down,” said the witness.
He says shortly after that, he started to see smoke in the distance. Video surveillance from a nearby business on Toledano around 8:30 p.m. does show a car, followed by two police cars and a third with lights on.
NOPD determined that their officers started to try and pull over the car near Toledano and Derbigny, but then abandoned the traffic stop.
“Upon the officers initiating this traffic stop by activating their lights, the vehicle started to stop and then accelerated. We believe our officers, at that time, disengaged and deactivated their lights,” said NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson.
Tonya McClary, the official monitor with the Independent Police Monitor, says there are clear rules when it comes to a police pursuit and a traffic stop. All an officer needs to conduct a traffic stop is reasonable suspicion. However, there’s a three-step process in order to pursue a vehicle.
“They would have to get permission to pursue it, but first they would have to determine whether it was a crime of violence. So they’re only allowed to pursue cars if a crime of violence has been committed. They also would have to determine whether there’s a serious need for it to happen...Is there imminent threat of bodily harm or injury? And they would also have to have attempted to pull the vehicle over,” said McClary.
Donovan Livaccari, an attorney with the Fraternal Order of Police, says while the officers did attempt to initiate a traffic stop, he says when the car started speeding, they abandoned the stop and therefore did not initiate a pursuit.
“It’s not a pursuit until someone attempts to evade police, and when this vehicle accelerated to ungodly speeds on Toledano Street, it was obvious they tried to evade. So they called it off. There’s no pursuit,” said Livaccari.
From the attempted traffic stop to the fiery fatal crash, Livaccari says just minutes passed. And with the NOPD launching a formal investigation, he believes their findings will show what the superintendent originally announced: That his officers did what they should have.
However, witnesses say it’s hard to forget what they saw that night.
“They didn't stop chasing until the car hit that building,” said the witness.
The consent decree mandates that when an officer wants to pursue a vehicle, they have to get permission from their supervisor.
Livaccari says he doesn’t believe the officers made a call, because they didn’t initiate a pursuit.