Three men involved in chase that killed Officer Matthews could face federal charges

Anthony Pierce (Courtesy: New Hanover County Jail)
Anthony Pierce (Courtesy: New Hanover County Jail)

Reported by Lynda Figueredo - bio|email
Additional information by Claire Simms - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A grand jury has indicted the driver of the SUV involved in a chase that killed Wilmington Police Officer Richard Matthews on second-degree murder charges.

Police say 40-year-old Anthony Pierce, who was driving the GMC Yukon on Feb. 18, is also facing charges of felony to elude arrest and possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana.

District Attorney Ben David said the police department is in no way responsible for indicting Pierce with murder charges.

A grand jury decided Pierce should be tried for murder after watching dashcam video and hearing testimony from officers who investigated the crash that took Matthews' life.

"As the Wilmington Police Department, we've actually had to distance ourselves from the case and make sure that we portray solely the facts," said Corporal Joe Fitzgerald.  "We give the grand jury the facts and allow them to make the decision if it's appropriate to indict this individual for second degree murder."

The grand jury decided that Pierce could be charged because by fleeing arrest, he displayed malice, a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others.

District Attorney Ben David also presented the idea of foreseeability, Pierce should know that a police chase can have devastating results.

"I think it's important to send a message to anyone who would flee from officers, that in the course of doing that, they injure or kill an officer, they should face the full measure of the law," said David.

Though a 25-paged detailed briefing reports that Officer Matthews was traveling more than 100 mph on Shipyard Blvd. an officer told the jury Matthews was not driving recklessly.

According to the briefing (page 6) "North Carolina General Statue 20-145 allows a law enforcement officer to exceed the speed limit in a police vehicle when operated with due regard for safety in the discharge of his/her official duties.  North Carolina General Statue 10-156 allows a law enforcement officer to proceed through an intersection or other places where the officer is facing a stop sign, a yield sign, a flashing strobe signal, or a steady/flashing red light if the officer has both blue light and siren activated."

Officers must consider several factors before engaging in a pursuit:

  • whether the need for apprehension outweighs the risks to the officer or public
  • pursuit location and direction
  • time of day
  • pedestrian and vehicular traffic conditions
  • the speeds involved in the pursuit
  • visibility and weather conditions
  • road conditions
  • the capabilities and limitations of the police vehicle

In addition to the factors, the officer must consider his role in relation to the chase.  In this case, Officer Matthews was the closet officer to assist Corporal Richards who was chasing the three men.

Passengers Matthew Hendy, 26, and Eric Grant Smith, 25, were not indicted but are both charged with possesion of a firearm by a felon and possession with marijuana.  Authorities are looking to file more charges against the men, and all three could face federal charges.

"We are looking at all three defendents while the law only supports charging the driver with homicide we do not hard harmless all three in terms of what happened that night," said David.  "We are looking with our federal counterparts in order to receive maximum just with this case."

Prosecutors say Pierce, Hendy, and Smith were all convicted felons prior to this incdient.

The briefing reveals (page 4) that Pierce, Smith, and Hendy had robbed other drug dealers approximately an hour before the chase and in essence were trying to outrun the dealers they had stolen from, who were armed.

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous has declined interview requests but did release a statement:

On behalf of the men and women of the Wilmington Police Department, I want to thank the District Attorney and his staff for their commitment and hard work in seeking these felony indictments. We are gratified by the outcome of the grand jury's deliberations.

I also want to acknowledge all the members of the Wilmington Police Department who contributed to preparing these cases. They have put tremendous effort into reconstructing the events of February 18th and preparing documentation during a very trying time in the history of our organization.

©2009 WECT. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.