CLEARWATER — Police Chief Dan Slaughter suspended two officers and a detective after an internal investigation found an unauthorized car chase led to a crash that hurt an officer and two civilians.
Det. Frederick Lise, who led the pursuit after a stolen car drove away from a traffic stop in Largo, got 10 days suspension for violating two policies related to operating department vehicles and insubordination and candor. He will also be removed from the agency’s Special Enforcement Unit.
Officers Langston Woodie and Jesse Myers, the latter of whom was hurt in the crash at Rosery Road and Clearwater-Largo Road, were handed five days of suspension for violating the agency’s operating department vehicles policy. Woodie will also be removed from the Community Problem Response Team.
“We are sorry that a civilian got hurt. We’re concerned that our own employee got hurt,” Slaughter said. “We recognize we’ve made some errors here that we’re responsible for.”
The officers and detective could not be reached for comment.
One of the injured civilians, Zoe Applegate, declined to comment through her St. Petersburg lawyer, Sean McQuaid. But McQuaid said Applegate, 20, broke her wrist and underwent emergency wrist surgery at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. She also had multiple broken ribs and head and neck injuries. Her 2015 Chevy Cruze was totaled, he said.
“It was an extremely serious accident,” McQuaid said. “They had a green light and the officer just went right through the stoplight … It had to be a traumatic impact and a surprise to her.”
The passenger in her car, William Gamble, could not be reached for comment. His lawyer did not return a call requesting comment.
According to the internal investigation, a woman reported that her black Ford Expedition had been stolen at 9:25 p.m. May 29 from the Ross Norton Recreation Complex on S Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. About 23 minutes later, Lise, who was hired in 2014, saw the stolen car and started following as it traveled south on Missouri Avenue from Druid Road. Woodie, who was hired in 2016, and Myers, who was hired in 2007, drove up to help. A fourth officer positioned himself down the road to throw tire deflation sticks if needed.
The car pulled into a Wawa on Missouri Avenue just north of Rosery Road in Largo, according to the investigation. The officers tried to conduct a traffic stop, but the Expedition got away and pulled out of the Wawa.
What they should have done at that point, Slaughter said, was stop following the car, head back to the city and notify Largo police. Under Clearwater police policy, typically only violent felonies warrant a pursuit. A stolen car does not.
“It’s tough to do. I’ll admit it,” the chief said. “You get in this profession to try to catch bad guys, so as a police officer it’s very difficult to turn around and go the other direction, but it’s for good reason that this policy exists.”
Instead, the officers chased the car west on Rosery Road and through a red light at the intersection of Clearwater-Largo Road. None had their lights and sirens on — another problem, had the pursuit been authorized to begin with, Slaughter said.
“Even if a person had a misunderstanding on what he could or couldn’t do, there’s no excuse for not utilizing lights and sirens when following a vehicle like that,” the chief said.
Lise, Woodie and the driver of the stolen car made it through. Myers collided with Applegate’s car, heading south on Clearwater-Largo Road, in the intersection. His last recorded speed before the crash was 42 mph. A bystander told investigators he ran up to Myers’ car and started pounding on the door. The officer wasn’t responsive at first. When he came to, his first instinct was to check on the civilians in the other car and his police dog, Axe.
Applegate and Gamble were taken to Bayfront. Myers was treated at Morton Plant Hospital. Axe was checked out and cleared at an animal hospital.
Meanwhile, Lise and Woodie continued after the stolen car until it stopped at 18th Street SW and 10th Avenue SW. The occupants got out of the car and ran away. A suspect was later arrested after investigators found DNA and fingerprints linking him to the car.
All three officers said in interviews with investigators that they believe they violated the pursuit policy. Lise, who is also a member of a multi-department habitual offender monitoring task force, got an additional 5-day suspension because he didn’t keep his supervisors in both the task force and Clearwater police fully informed on what was happening.
It put the other two officers, knowing Lise was in the task force with other supervisors, “in a little bit of a quandary,” Slaughter said.
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.