State investigators released footage Thursday from a fatal Feb. 8 crash that shows Baltimore Police officers pursuing a reported stolen vehicle that crashed into another car, a pedestrian and a vacant building, which collapsed.
The footage from an officer’s body camera, as well as a CitiWatch surveillance system, shows the interior of the officer’s squad car as her follows a Hyundai Sonata, which police said was stolen, through an area of East Baltimore. The Sonata accelerated down North Wolfe Street at a high rate of speed, eventually crashing into a Mitsubishi Eclipse at East North Avenue.
The cars then crashed into a vacant building on the intersection’s southeast corner, hitting Alfred Fincher, a 54-year-old pedestrian on the sidewalk. The structure immediately collapsed, dumping a pile of bricks on top of Fincher and the vehicles.
Fincher was declared dead at the scene. Five others, who were inside the two vehicles, were injured. The driver of the Sonata, identified as 33-year-old Shawn Lee Brunson, was arrested on vehicle theft charges after he was released from the hospital. He does not have an attorney listed in court records.
The state attorney general office’s Independent Investigations Division, which probes police-involved deaths, released the footage Thursday after delaying the release last week. The office did not cite a specific reason for the delay, noting reasons for a postponement include a need for more time to interview witnesses, to redact the identities of civilian witnesses or to allow family members to view the footage.
Footage from officer Devin Yancy’s body camera includes police radio traffic where an unidentified speaker tells officers to “just let it go” as the Sonata was driving at a high rate of speed. Seconds later, the person says the car crashed into a building.
“The officer did not break off the pursuit, and Alfred Fincher is dead,” said Divya Potdar, a Baltimore attorney who is representing Fincher’s surviving family.
She said officers should be better trained not to “needlessly pursue” stolen vehicles.
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Baltimore Police policy says officers can chase a fleeing vehicle if there is a felony suspect inside who poses an “immediate threat” of death or injury, and if there is probable cause before the pursuit that he or she committed a felony that resulted or could have resulted in death or serious injury.
Officers are specifically prohibited from pursuing a car if the initial violation is a “crime against property,” including auto theft or a misdemeanor, traffic offense or nonviolent warrant.
According to the policy, factors for consideration include the safety of the public, familiarity with the area, whether the suspect’s identity is verified, other people in the fleeing vehicle, other resources available for assistance and the chances of apprehending the suspect at a later time.
At a news conference shortly after the crash, Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Richard Worley said he didn’t believe officers “pursued” the Sonata, stating that they “tried to stop it.” A news release from the Attorney General’s office says Yancy “attempted a traffic stop” near North Patterson Park Avenue and East North Avenue, but the Sonata “failed to stop.”
“Officers followed the Hyundai to the area of Sinclair Lane and North Wolfe Street, where it continued to flee,” the release says.
Potdar said her firm is attempting to obtain more footage of the events leading up to the crash, and that she hopes the investigation is thorough and transparent.
Fincher was a father of three children, Potdar said. He had four grandchildren, and two more on the way.