Local agencies’ general orders are relatively similar to that of the Tennessee Highway Patrol when it comes to knowing when to pursue and when to terminate a chase, particularly after entering another agency’s jurisdiction.
“The decision to pursue is not irrevocable,” according to the Kingsport Police Department’s general orders, which adds that the decision should be based on an officer’s concern for the public as well as his “experience and common sense.”
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office deputies are advised to terminate pursuits when “further chase is pointless” or “presents an unreasonable danger,” the department’s general orders state.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Kyle Cantwell, assigned to Sullivan County in 2004, was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an investigation into his decision to pursue 18-year-old Justin Thompson, of Kingsport, around 3:08 a.m. Sunday.
Shortly after Cantwell allegedly clocked Thompson traveling at 140 mph on Interstate 81 and the pursuit began, Thompson died from injuries he received when he crashed his 1989 Honda motorcycle at the intersection of Wadlow Gap Road and East Carters Valley Road in Virginia.
Many have expressed concern about Cantwell’s apparent decision to pursue Thompson into Virginia.
Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Conroy told Timesnews.net Tuesday that the crash occurred within a quarter mile to a half mile inside the Virginia line.
KPD’s general orders state that, “when practical,” officers are typically expected to yield primary and secondary unit positions in the pursuit to other agencies upon leaving the Kingsport city limits.
SCSO deputies are allowed to continue the chase into other jurisdictions when chasing an alleged felony offender so long as radio contact is constant, the field supervisor is notified, and that supervisor provides the details of the chase to the neighboring jurisdiction.
However , the general orders require deputies to terminate pursuits involving misdemeanor offenses upon leaving county limits.
When Cantwell crossed the state line, if he was in fact actively pursuing Thompson, the Department of Safety’s general orders state three conditions that must be met.
Investigators have not said if Cantwell believed Thompson might have been a “fleeing felon,” but he should have only left the state if he believed he was in pursuit of a fleeing felon, according to the general orders.
Once Cantwell crossed the line, he should have advised the district dispatcher that he was leaving the state. The district dispatcher should then contact a supervisor.
The supervisor would then assume responsibility for evaluating the situation and making the final decision on whether to continue or terminate the pursuit.
At some point Cantwell did advise dispatch he’d clocked Thompson’s motorcycle at 140 mph. A release states that Cantwell also advised dispatch that Thompson had exited I-81 onto Fort Henry Drive, turned onto John B. Dennis, turned onto Bloomingdale Road and continued onto Wadlow Gap Road into Virginia, according to a press release from THP spokesman Mike Browning.
Investigators have not said if a district dispatcher advised a supervisor of Cantwell’s pursuit.
If a supervisor was notified, the district dispatcher should have been able to pass along certain details of the pursuit which must be provided “in all instances,” the general orders state.
The required information includes information about the patrol car involved, geographic details of the pursuit, any charges, approximate speeds of the trooper and suspect, and a radio channel cleared of all traffic pending the pursuit’s termination.
With this information at hand, a supervisor, preferably Cantwell’s own supervisor if available, would then assume responsibility for all decisions made during the pursuit, the general orders state.
Those decisions include ensuring the pursuit’s compliance with general orders and the decision to terminate, which should not be made without due consideration of the general orders.
General orders from all three agencies agree that the use of alternative tactics such as roadblocks, parallel driving and attempting to force a suspect vehicle from the road are each types of deadly force and are typically forbidden without a supervisor’s authorization unless such actions are deemed “immediately necessary to prevent serious injury or death.”
The emphasis, as the THP general orders state, is placed on “ensuring the safety and general welfare of the traveling public.”
That’s also the intent of the Vanessa K. Free Emergency Services Training Act of 2005, which became law in January 2006.
Kingsport residents Mary Watts and Sarah Bogan, Free’s mother, created the act after her daughter died from injuries sustained in a collision with a Chattanooga police officer. Watts’ own daughter, Free’s roommate, as well as others in the car were seriously injured.
Watts said she hoped the act will “help prevent senseless deaths,” and said that she read the article concerning Thompson’s death with “great sadness.” She also said she hoped the act would “protect the lives of emergency vehicle drivers.”
The act requires all emergency vehicle drivers to train, for no less than two hours annually, in the operation of a patrol car in emergency and non-emergency situations including defensive driving techniques, review all applicable laws, and pass a yearly comprehensive examination.