High-speed chase questions county pursuit policies


high-speed chase

that ended in the death of a La Prairie, Illinois woman raised questions from some viewers as to whether a sheriff's deputy should have called off the pursuit before it became too dangerous.

Brown County deputy John Zimmerman began the 25-mile pursuit in Versailles, Ill. after he received reports of passengers in a Chevy pickup vandalizing area property. The deputy then spotted the vehicle running a stop sign. The chase began when the driver, later identified as Jacob Hendricks, 19, of Mt. Sterling refused to stop. The Brown County Sheriff's Department said Hendricks reached speeds of more than 100 mph.

The chase spanned four counties and ended in Beardstown when Hendricks took a turn too fast and hit a utility pole at the intersection of 8th and Beard streets. Brianna Baker, 19, of La Prairie died in the crash.

Law enforcement agencies across West Central Illinois have varying protocols dictating when to pursue and when not to pursue. Those rules are based certain variables including the time of the incident, the location and other various conditions.

"Every department has a different policy on pursuit," Beardstown Police Chief Tom Schlueter said. "The police department, the sheriff's department, they all have policies on who they can pursue and if they can pursue at all."

Illinois Sheriffs' Association

"If they don't have one in place, they certainly should just for their own protection," Illinois Sheriffs' Association Executive Director Greg Sullivan said. "If not a policy, then the department should be going through adequate training. Unfortunately, training budgets have been cut over the years, which is not a good thing for either the officers or the public."

The ISA does not have a state-wide policy, Sullivan said. The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board conducted a study several years ago about model policies for high speed chase. Those policies are available for Illinois counties to implement in their area.

"We're more than willing to work with counties that don't have policies in place," said Sullivan.

Counties without a protocol

"The problem in this case was the deputy was never able to get close enough to the vehicle to see the license plate. So there was no way of writing down the license plate number and terminating it," Brown County Sheriff Karl Groesch said. "We have no set written policy for our department. I rely on our deputies to use common sense to terminate a pursuit whenever they feel it's necessary."

Sheriff Groesch said that he believes Zimmerman did nothing wrong.

"The deputy hasn't been relieved of duty and will not be. He hasn't been suspended and I don't anticipate any departmental charges or actions to be taken against him," Groesch said. "He was just doing his job."

Groesch told Hasch Tuesday that a policy could be put in place in the future, but not as a result of this incident.

Counties with a protocol

KHQA has compiled a list of law enforcement agencies that are expected to follow a protocol when it comes to high-speed pursuits. Local sheriff's departments from Adams, Pike, Cass, Morgan, McDonough and Hancock counties all respond to a certain protocol. Not all are the same, but we've found most counties expect their officers to call a supervisor who can help make the decision on whether or not to end a chase. For many, the answer would depend on the location of chase, what the original offense was and if it's putting others in danger.

Cass County Sheriff Bob Fair said that his department didn't have a policy on the books during his first 23 years with the department. When elected in 2009, Fair said he implemented his own policy. Deputies are required to contact their supervisors during potentially questionable chases. He said policies like his help prevent incidents like the current one in Brown County.

Illinois State Police

A legal representative for the Illinois State Police told KHQA it has a state-wide protocol for pursuits, about 11 pages worth of a written manual which they have in the mail to our station. We will provide that information when it arrives.

*Contributed by KHQA's Brooke Hasch