ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — A nationally recognized researcher who has spent a career studying dangerous police actions called high-speed pursuit of traffic offenders “ridiculous,” among other adjectives.
“Ridiculous. Dangerous. Unreasonable. Unreasonable,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor in the University of South Carolina’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
For 30 years, Alpert has researched high-risk policing, taught at the FBI National Academy, and has testified before Congress, several state legislatures, and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Target 8 contacted Alpert about a fatal accident involving a former Allegan County sheriff’s deputy who was reportedly trying to catch up with a speeder.
Thomas Goggins, 42, was reportedly driving more than 90 miles an hour without lights and a siren before crashing into an SUV, killing a 74-year-old great-grandmother.
Allegan County Attorney Myrene Koch on Sept. 29 accused former Deputy Goggins with misdemeanor motion injury resulting in death in the accident in June.
“Accelerating without lights and sirens is never appropriate,” Geoffrey Alpert said Monday in a Zoom interview with Target 8.
“Putting everyone’s life at risk is not something we’re doing in 2022. That’s not something we did in 2020. It’s a sort of historical ‘hunt til the wheels fall off’ that we got rid of in the ’80s and ’90s,” Alpert concluded, noting that big police departments and the better smaller ones moved to curb pursuits a long time ago.
Although he declined to comment specifically on the Allegan County crash, Alpert urged Sheriff Frank Baker to review his department’s policy.
“I would suggest that the sheriff do an overhaul and look at his policy to see what’s going on in the rest of the state, the rest of the United States and the rest of the world,” Alpert said. “We in South Carolina have what we call a ‘overtaking law,’ where the legislature allows cops to do some of that, but it’s a very, very short time to catch up with a car and you still have to drive with due regard.” Safety of all motorists and driving 90 miles per hour with no lights and sirens does not do that.”
Goggins, who has since resigned from the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office, collided with Jose and Ofelia Nunez in an SUV, killing Ofelia and seriously injuring Jose.
The couple, married for 53 years, was five minutes from home evening of 12.6go south on 54th Street near Fennville.
Jose Nunez was behind the wheel and briefly stopped at a stop sign at 54th Street and M-89 before going over M-89.
According to the accident report, Nunez did not fully stop and Goggins was speeding when he hit the left rear of Nunez’s SUV while crossing the intersection.
“As a result of the impact, the passenger came out of her seated position despite wearing her seat belt,” wrote a police officer in the accident report. “This passenger was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries sustained in the accident.”
Goggins and a second deputy in the cruiser were treated at a hospital and released.
“The risk to the public appears enormous given the speed and location,” Alpert said. “In my opinion, unless it’s a violent crime, it’s not worth pursuing. I released this in the 90’s. We did a big project for the (US) Department of Justice and made this proposal.”
Allegan County Sheriff Frank Baker has declined to share his department’s policy on prosecuting traffic offenders.
Goggins defense attorney Mike Hills has told his clients did exactly what he had been trained to do from the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office.
Goggins, who was in his second month with the department, reportedly had a field training officer with him in the cruiser at the time of the crash.
West Michigan’s largest police agency, as well as the Michigan State Police, are transparent about their criminal prosecution and fleeing felon prosecution policies.
The Grand Rapids Police Department, the publishes its policies onlineprevents officers from initiating prosecutions for civil offenses (such as speeding), property crimes, or misdemeanor unless there are “extraordinary circumstances of the prosecution.”
“Initiate and/or conduct a pursuit ONLY when the suspect vehicle contains an inherently violent criminal fleeing or fleeing a violent crime, unless the officer can articulate an extraordinary circumstance in the pursuit,” the GRPD states police vehiclesj.
The Michigan State Police has released official orders to regulate the prosecution.
Such an order says police officers can exceed the speed limit without using lights and sirens to catch up with an offender when “the nature of the mission requires a law enforcement officer to travel without warning suspected law violators.”
But the order goes on to say: “This legal exception does not protect the (soldier) from the consequences of reckless disregard for the safety of others. Therefore, (soldiers) must exercise due care and caution in attempting to capture potential transgressors.”
An order to pursue fleeing suspects tells police officers that they can only initiate or conduct a pursuit if the driver has committed a crime (other than fleeing and evading), the pursued vehicle is operating contrary to the normal flow of traffic on the freeway (wrong-way driver) or the driver of the pursued vehicle represents an “imminent threat to public safety”.
in general, Michigan law allows police to exceed speed limit to pursue criminals but they must use light and siren when you do so, unless “the nature of the mission requires a law enforcement officer to travel without warning suspected law violators. However, this exemption does not protect the driver from the consequences of reckless disregard for the safety of others.”
https://www.woodtv.com/news/allegan-county/no-justification-for-deputy-doing-90-mph-in-fatal-crash-says-expert/ 'No justification' for MP driving 90mph in fatal crash, says expert