Saturday, May 26, 2018
Public safety

Gulfport chief finds minor policy violations, but commends officers in chase review

GULFPORT — An administrative review of a police chase that ended last week with a crash in St. Petersburg concluded that officers made minor violations of the agency's pursuit policy, but otherwise did nothing wrong.

Gulfport police Chief Robert Vincent conducted the review, which looked at the actions of four officers involved in the July 9 pursuit. He published his findings Thursday on his personal blog, gulfportpdchief.blogspot.com.

The review notes that officers made four minor violations of Gulfport's pursuit policy. Among them:

• Officer Eva Iwanowski drove 100 mph on First Avenue S while trying to catch up to three other officers in pursuit. The speed was unjustified, the review stated.

• Lt. Joshua Stone was driving a Ford Fusion administrative vehicle during the pursuit. The car is not designed for use in high-speed chases.

Vincent noted that minor violations of department policy are common during pursuits as such situations are "highly stressful and rapidly changing." Despite the violations, the chief said the officers did a commendable job.

"I want to make one thing very clear: I have no intention of prohibiting my officers from using every reasonable means available to apprehend auto thieves," Vincent wrote. "This has historically been a crime that has victimized many of our residents, and I believe I echo the community's concerns when I say that our police department should not have a standing policy that prohibits intervention and lets these criminals get away scot-free."

The 14-minute chase began in Gulfport after Officer Jesse Kellington tried to stop a stolen Toyota Venza driven by 21-year-old Derrick Mims, police said.

The chase stretched as far north as 38th Avenue N before looping back south into St. Petersburg's Jordan Park neighborhood. It ended when the Venza crashed into a PSTA bus, which then plowed into the front of a house.

Mims, whose 2-year-old son was in the back seat of the Venza, was arrested on charges of grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding, and child endangerment. A passenger, Chad Springer, 20, was hospitalized with serious injuries. A third unidentified passenger fled the car after the crash. No one on the bus was seriously injured.

Vincent said he plans to tweak the agency's pursuit policy, adding a requirement that officers consider their lack of familiarity with a neighborhood when deciding whether to continue a chase.

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