A Minneapolis police officer was charged with manslaughter for allegedly crashing his squad car into a vehicle during a high-speed chase earlier this year, which resulted in the death of an innocent man, authorities announced Friday.
Officer Brian Cummings has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide in connection with the crash that killed Leneal Frazier, a 40-year-old Black man, who was not being chased in the pursuit, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Hennepin County District Attorneys’ office.
“Police are supposed to protect and serve citizens, and to act in a manner consistent with their sworn oath to do so. Officer Cummings’ actions deviated from his oath and his negligence caused the death of Leneal Frazier,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement.
Cummings current status with the police department was not immediately clear.
The union representing Minneapolis police officers and the Minneapolis police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The fatal crash has prompted Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to initiate a re-review of the city’s police pursuit policy after it was previously updated in 2019.
“The State is handling the investigation, and our local government will be cooperating fully to help ensure a transparent process,” Frey said in a statement in July. “We updated the department’s pursuit policy in 2019 to make it far more restrictive and will again be reviewing that policy, independent of the investigation.”
“The violence our city is experiencing is a public health crisis, and we will continue our work to treat it as such — that means both just and equitable law enforcement and safety solutions beyond policing,” the statement continued.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, Freeman said he has been “very concerned about pursuits in this state for a number of years. The county attorney charges and prosecutes cases. I don’t necessarily set the policy of police departments or other entities.”
“But sometimes the policies are so poorly done that I need to get involved,” Freeman continued. “I’ve tried to, informally and behind the scenes, get involved behind the scenes to improve the policy and it simply has not worked. So it is time, in this case, which is as egregious as anyone I’ve seen, to do something about it, and I have.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and attorney Jeff Storms, who are representing the Frazier family, released a statement Friday, saying they are “grateful for the charges brought against Brian Cummings.”
“No innocent civilian should ever lose their life because of unwarranted high-speed chases in residential neighborhoods,” the statement reads. “This case shines a light on how far we have to go in the pursuit of safe and just policing in America. High-speed pursuit policies in Minneapolis and across America must be better written and stringently enforced to protect innocent civilians.”
Cummings, 37, was responding to a stolen vehicle report in North Minneapolis in the early morning on July 6 when he spotted a black Kia Sportage matching the description of the vehicle “suspected to be involved in thefts from businesses,” the complaint reads.
The officer attempted to make a traffic stop, but the Kia sped away and a chase was initiated, according to the complaint. Cummings’ squad car had sirens and lights activated as he pursued the car for more than 20 blocks – including residential neighborhoods – at speeds “approaching near or at 100 mph,” according to the criminal complaint filed Thursday.
Cummings was driving at approximately 90 mph as he approached an intersection in an area with a 25 mph speed limit, according to the criminal complaint. Frazier, who had a green light, then entered the intersection in his Jeep and had a “partially obstructed view of traffic coming from the south” due to an apartment building on one corner of the intersection.
The Kia Sportage ran the red light and entered the intersection at roughly 100 mph, and it “narrowly missed” Frazier’s Jeep. However, as Cummings pursued the suspect, he ran the red light at approximately 90 mph and crashed Frazier’s car on the driver’s side, the complaint says.
The accident was reconstructed after the crash with the technology in Cummings’ squad car and surveillance video in the area, revealing the officer was driving at roughly 78 mph when he hit Frazier’s Jeep, which was going 25 mph “at the point of impact,” the complaint says. Frazier died at a nearby hospital as a result of his injuries.
The reconstruction found the collision “can be attributed to the Defendant for failure to operate his vehicle with due regard for the safety of other motorists.”
According to the Minneapolis Police Department’s pursuit policy, officers “shall not initiate a pursuit or shall terminate a pursuit in progress if the pursuit poses an unreasonable risk to the officers, the public or passengers of the vehicle being pursued who may be unwilling participants.”
Officers must always “be aware of the inherent danger to the public and to themselves in vehicle pursuits or emergency responses,” the policy states.
In a memo, Freeman urged an overhaul of police pursuit policies in Minnesota, saying they are “inadequate and do not do enough to protect human life.”
Vehicle pursuits allow officers to initiate “dangerous pursuits in situations where it is simply not critical for public safety to pursue wrongdoers at high speeds” and they cause serious injury or death of suspects and innocent bystanders, Freeman wrote.
Last year, there were 3,109 reported pursuits, and roughly 8% of those were initiated due to a felony offense, according to the most recent Uniform Crime Report for Minnesota. There have been 40 reported fatal injuries for people “involved in, or affected by, pursuits” from 2013 to 2020, according to Freeman’s memo.
Minnesota has had several incidents where innocent bystanders have been injured or killed due to high-speed police vehicle pursuits. In 2018, Minnesota State Patrol troopers chased a driver, who fled from an attempted traffic stop, into a residential neighborhood and then into a playground, resulting in “two young children suffering life-threatening injuries and a third young child suffering less severe injury,” according to Freeman’s memo.
Last year, three teenagers who were riding in a stolen vehicle were killed in a crash after they were being chased by Minneapolis police officers, the memo says.
“It is unacceptable that most police pursuits are initiated because of something other than a felony offense,” Freeman’s memo reads. “Police departments must reserve pursuits only for cases involving violent felony offenses.”