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Mother of high-speed chase victim sues Baltimore police

The three named plaintiffs each claim Baltimore police officers took his or her belongings after being shot by unknown assailants. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The Baltimore Police Department is being sued by the mother of a motorist killed during a police chase. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The mother of a motorist killed last year when his car was demolished in a Baltimore intersection by an alleged car thief trying to elude officers in a high-speed chase has sued the city’s police department, claiming its reckless, outdated pursuit policy caused his death.

The Ford Fusion that went through a red light and “T-boned” Darius Gore’s car and sent it spinning in the intersection of Liberty Heights and Calloway avenues on March 21, 2020, was being chased through Baltimore streets at speeds that reached 90 miles per hour, according to Rowena Simmons’ complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Gore, who was in his late 20s, survived for four weeks after the collision. Gary Tyson, a passenger in Gore’s car, was seriously injured and is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Police had given chase despite the absence of a public safety emergency, as the car was allegedly stolen not by a dangerous carjacker but by someone who took advantage of a key having been left in the ignition, stated the complaint submitted by William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. and his Baltimore law firm, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy.

“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, one could turn on the television and watch episodes of ‘Cops’ or ‘World’s Wildest Police Videos’ and see video footage of high-speed pursuits by police officers, usually ending in horrendous crashes,” Murphy wrote.

“As of 2005, some of the policies governing pursuits across the nation had not been updated since the 1970s, which did not serve the 21st century’s increased traffic congestion, resulting in an alarming increase in innocent bystanders’ deaths,” Murphy added. “Accordingly, many police departments were coming to terms with the reality that the killings and severe injuries that resulted from these pursuits were not worth it.”

The Baltimore Police Department, however, has largely held fast to high-speed pursuits while most big city law enforcement agency have largely abandoned the practice as too risky, Murphy wrote.

He stated that BPD’s policy “provides broad discretion to … officers to pursue, including whether to establish a pursuit and how fast their vehicle will pursue the fleeing vehicle.”

The lawsuit alleges that BPD violated the federal law protecting Gore’s civil and constitutional rights through the department’s flawed pursuit policy and its failure to properly hire, train and supervise its police officers. The lawsuit also names as defendants the officers who gave pursuit, alleging they were grossly negligent.

Baltimore Solicitor James L. “Jim” Shea, the city’s chief attorney, said via email Tuesday that his office is “particularly attentive to any complaint involving the death of a citizen.”

“Unfortunately, this appears to be such a case – Mr. Gore died, and Mr. Tyson sustained serious injury, when the driver of a stolen vehicle struck their car while trying to evade police,” Shea added. “The Law Department will carefully assess these serious claims.”

According to the complaint, officers were informed at 7:45 p.m. on March 21, 2020 that a Ford Fusion reported to have been stolen had been spotted at the 2600 block of West Patapsco in southwest Baltimore. When an officer approached by car, the driver of the Ford Fusion sped away. Three officers in separate cars gave chase.

“The pursuit lasted for over six minutes, and, at times, exceeded 90 miles per hour and went through areas where civilians were located, placing them at high risk,” Murphy wrote. “It passed three schools and one hospital along the way.”

The chase was overseen via police helicopter, whose crew never recommended that the pursuit be terminated, even as the driver of the stolen car blew threw three stop signs and 50 intersections as it sped down narrow residential streets until it reached Liberty Heights and Calloway, according to the complaint.

Gore was rushed to the hospital, where he was treated for a fractured vertebra and obstructed blood flow to his brain, which required removing part of his skull. Gore remained in a coma for much of the next week, as his conditioned worsened resulting in a fatal heart attack on April 17, 2020.

Tyson, who is in his mid-50s, suffered broken ribs, a broken tibia and a bruised lung.

The driver of the allegedly stolen car, Delisa Ann Dello-Stritto, was declared incompetent to stand trial in February. Dello-Stritto, 29, is charged with manslaughter by auto, criminally negligent vehicular manslaughter, car theft and a host of traffic violations, according to online court records.

The lawsuit is docketed at the U.S. District Court as Rowena Simmons et al. v. Baltimore Police Department et al., No. 1:21-cv-00969-RDB.

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