The state representative who served a decade as Montgomery County sheriff talked this week with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine about new standards for police pursuits and stiffer sentences for those who trigger them.
State Rep. Phil Plummer said uniform pursuit rules would increase public safety for an action that has led to at least five local deaths in the past year.
A pair of teens – one of which was a 15-year-old girl whose name was released Tuesday – were killed while riding Sunday in Trotwood in a speeding, fleeing car that hit a Greater Dayton RTA bus after a failed police traffic stop.
“Chases are the second most dangerous thing a law enforcement officer does. Number 1 is discharging a firearm,” Plummer said.
“We’re very well-trained. We have strict policies on discharging a firearm,” he said. “But unfortunately, our chase policies, they’re all over the place. They’re like spilled milk.”
The 40th District Republican said he spoke with the governor about proposing legislation using a state report DeWine once commissioned as Ohio attorney general after a 2016 fatal, high-speed Huber Heights police pursuit that ended with the death of a third-party driver.
“There are different policies in different jurisdictions,” Plummer said. “So it’s very confusing when a chase occurs: Can this jurisdiction engage? Can they not? Dispatchers are trying to vet all of this while they’re sending in help and resources. It’s very complicated.”
Plummer said he’s not locked in to having a statewide pursuit policy.
“I’d like to see at least a countywide…general pursuit policy that we all understand and follow,” he said.
The 2017 task force report issued by the attorney general’s office under DeWine went to Ohio’s nearly 1,000 law enforcement agencies with a list of “best practices” of when and how to pursue.
Under the initiation of pursuit procedures, the advisory group’s report states, “the policy should distinguish violent felonies and property offenses, or OVIs and traffic violations.”
Why Trotwood police sought to stop a Pontiac on Free Pike on Sunday has not been publicly released. Police Chief Erik Wilson spoke only briefly Sunday about what led up to the wreck.
The Dayton Daily News on Monday requested police reports, cruiser and traffic cameras, and additional information about the crash, but Trotwood police as of Tuesday afternoon did not provide any new information on the case.
The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office on Tuesday identified Mya’nie Nabors, a 15-year-old Trotwood-Madison student, as a fatality in the crash that also killed Kyren Wright, 18, of Dayton.
They died after the car – driven at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour by Christopher Baker, 18, of Dayton – hit the RTA bus, causing the car to burst into flames, authorities said.
The rate of speeds for police vehicles in pursuits should be tempered by the seriousness of the crime, said Thomas Hagel, professor emeritus at the University of Dayton Law School.
In cases of violent crimes, he said, “then I think the officer should have a wider discretion on initiating a chase and….speeds.”
However, “Once an officer has initiated a chase, he has created two sources of danger. One is the fleeing vehicle as well as his vehicle,” Hagel said.
Plummer went a bit further.
“It’s not worth chasing anybody right now if it’s not a violent felony,” he said.
The punishment for those who flee law enforcement officers is an important consideration for new guidelines, Plummer said.
The basic offense of fleeing or eluding is considered a first-degree misdemeanor in Ohio, although fleeing or eluding also can be a felony under some circumstances. Currently, the penalty for misdemeanor fleeing or eluding is up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Plummer said a better deterrent would be a five-year sentence – with no plea bargains — for those convicted.
He said, “We need the balance. We have to realize, we may kill somebody’s family chasing this one person.”
In September 2018, during a Moraine police pursuit of a vehicle reported stolen, Officer Matt Barrie was within division guidelines and was given the go-ahead by a superior. He reached speeds of up to 80 miles per hour on Ohio 741 while chasing a stolen Jeep, records show.
Barrie’s cruiser then collided a car driven by Mary Taulbee, an uninvolved motorist whose vehicle had been hit by another car seeking to avoid the oncoming stolen Jeep, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Alyssa Irwin-Debraux of Dayton was the driver of the stolen Jeep, police records show. She wrecked it minutes later near the Dayton Mall and was arrested.
Earlier this year, she was sentenced to 13 years in prison in connection with Taulbee’s death.