A high-speed chase caught on dashcam video is raising questions about the actions of a Tennessee state trooper, and now the state is being sued over how that pursuit ended.
The Channel 4 I-Team has been working to obtain this video for two years, and the district attorney just released it to us this month. Once we watched how the chase unfolded, we started investigating.
It was the middle of the afternoon in Cookeville right around the time students would be let out for the day when a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper tried to stop a biker because his motorcycle wasn't registered.
But when the biker doesn't stop, a chase ensued through a parking lot, a busy residential area and at high speeds down a narrow country road.
The video shows the biker eventually stopping as does the trooper. As the trooper backs up, the biker is seen on video appearing to surrender. He even puts his hands up.
But, what you see next on the video is shocking. The trooper's vehicle accelerates, hitting the biker and pinning him to a fence.
The Channel 4 I-Team brought the video to a Nashville motorcycle shop and heard the reactions from some other bikers.
"I certainly feel it was an overreaction," said Kevin Harbour.
"The motorcyclist had given up yet he still rammed him and took him out, unbelievable," said Rick Horner.
The state didn't see it that way. The Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Putnam County district attorney both investigated the 2012 chase and the actions of Trooper Michael Loftis.
District Attorney Randy York wrote, "We have decided not to pursue any criminal charges and will be closing our file. I do not think there were any intentional actions of Trooper Loftis that led to this accident."
In fact, the D.A. and the THP both say "brake fade" was to blame. That's when your brakes stop working from hard braking. They say the smoke seen coming from the patrol car in the video is a sign of brake fade.
However, Trooper Loftis wrote in his report that he thought Hearld was making a U-Turn to go back to Cookeville, so he backed up then "hit the gas." And when he realized the motorcycle was stopped in front of him, Loftis wrote he was "going too fast to stop."
The motorcycle rider, David Hearld, entered several guilty pleas in the case, including evading arrest and driving on a suspended license.
But the way his chase ended may end up costing Tennessee taxpayers. Hearld is suing the state.
The Channel 4 I-Team took the video and the state's findings to an expert attorney in police procedures.
"Using a vehicle by a police officer to strike a motorcycle, to apprehend or stop that suspect, is a violation of that suspect's Constitutional rights," said attorney Phil Davidson.
But, what about the state's claim that the trooper's vehicle had brake fade?
"Brake fade occurs when there has been a lot of pressure put on the brakes - that they have expanded to the point that they can't make good contact. I did notice that the vehicle had no problem stopping when it backed up, and if you have brake fade, it occurs going in both directions - not just one," said Davidson.
Davidson is also raising questions about whether the trooper should have chased the biker at all.
"The chase occurred through a residential area. It occurred through private parking lots. It occurred on a small town road in the middle of the week - about 2:20 in the afternoon when school was going to be letting out. And there was a very populated area and these chases exceeded 75-80 miles an hour," said Davidson. "To me, looking at the THP policy on pursuits, it violated THP policy by not taking in consideration the safety and danger to others in the area."
But, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is standing by the trooper saying, "a thorough report was conducted," and "it was found that Trooper Loftis conducted the pursuit appropriately and there were no policy or procedural violations committed."
The Channel 4 I-Team asked Hearld for an interview, but his attorney said he doesn't want to try the case in the media.
In his lawsuit, Hearld and his wife are seeking $600,000, saying he had to be air lifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center after being hit by the deputy. The couple claims Hearld's medical bills topped $130,000 and that he has suffered permanent injuries.
The head of the THP, Col. Tracy Trott, and District Attorney Randy York both said they would be happy to do interviews about this case but can't because of the pending lawsuit.
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