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Baltimore police recklessly chased a stolen car, causing crash that killed an innocent motorist, lawsuit says

The family of a 28-year-old man killed by a woman fleeing police in a stolen car has sued the Baltimore Police Department, alleging the agency’s policy on pursuits gives officers too much discretion that supervisors fail to rein in.

The suit was filed this week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Rowena Simmons, the mother of Darius Gore, who died last spring after being struck as he passed through an intersection in Northwest Baltimore. A passenger in Gore’s vehicle, who was injured, is also a plaintiff.

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Police pursued Delisa Ann Dello-Stritto, 28, for more than 11 miles through the city on March 21, 2020, passing by three schools and a hospital, and through narrow streets and intersections, the lawsuit says. This, despite the fact that the vehicle had a GPS device and was being tracked from the air by the police helicopter.

The Sun obtained aerial footage last year that showed at least two officers behind Dello-Stritto when the crash occurred, arriving moments after impact.

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“The BCPD created the threat to the citizens when they engaged in the pursuit and continued to pursue, with conscience shocking deliberate indifference and reckless disregard for the right of innocent citizens,” Simmons’ attorneys wrote in the suit.

The Police Department said it does not comment on pending litigation. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said police have not turned over files related to the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

The suit alleges the Baltimore Police Department has a “pattern and practice” of such chases, saying its policies on chases are too permissive and officers have not been sufficiently trained.

Simmons said she has seen Baltimore police engage in high-speed chases throughout the city since she was a child and that the department needs to address the practice to prevent similar fatal accidents in the future.

”How many lives have to end in order for the police to stop chasing unnecessary vehicles?” she said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference near the intersection where the crash occurred.

Simmons, who is represented by William H. Murphy Jr., Andrew K. O’Connell, and Nikoletta S. Mendrinos, called her son a “kind, loving, gentle soul,” who was driving someone to buy groceries during the early part of the coronavirus pandemic when he was struck by the vehicle driven by Dello-Stritto.

She added that she struggles to sleep at night, saying that “nobody else should go through this.”

“I sit up and I just cry trying to figure out why were they chasing a vehicle for 11 miles through these streets [at] 8 o’clock at night, everybody out,” she said. “It was a blessing that nobody else got killed.”

Baltimore Police policies on chasing fleeing suspects prohibit a pursuit for a stolen vehicle but say they may give chase if there “exists probable cause to believe the fleeing suspect committed a felony which resulted, or could have resulted, in death or serious bodily injury.”

Officers are supposed to weigh the danger to the community, the likelihood of being able to apprehend the person at a later time, and the availability of air support.

Police initially found the stolen vehicle because of a GPS hit, and sought to box in the vehicle. Dello-Stritto backed up, struck Officer Johnta Gray’s vehicle. The police helicopter was overhead at the time.

“During this entire pursuit, the GPS device was providing the location of the vehicle. Therefore, even if the officers on the ground had not pursued, the location of the vehicle would have been known to them,” the lawsuit says. “Also, the helicopter was overheard the entire time, which means that the eluder’s location was known to officers of the BCPD at all times, thus obviating the need for the pursuit.”

Mendrinos, an attorney with the Murphy, Falcon and Murphy law firm, said officers may have exceeded the posted speed limit in the area by up to 30 m.p.h.

“The pursuit was totally unnecessary and Darius’ death was completely preventable,” Medrinos said at the news conference.

She added that the lawsuit is looking to compel the department to impose speed caps on officers involved in pursuits and to change a policy that allows officers to drive through intersections without coming to a complete stop.

Court records show Dello-Stritto was deemed not competent to stand trial and committed for treatment.

Simmons said she was not able to visit her son at the hospital while he was in a coma, due to the facility’s coronavirus restrictions. She told The Sun last year that she had purchased a tape recorder and sent messages from the family and the sound of his beloved Yorkshire terrier, Cash.

The lawsuit said that he died alone, and his mother was unable to say goodbye.

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