Ramsey County commissioners raise concerns about sheriff’s pursuit of stolen car

Ramsey County commissioners raise concerns about sheriff’s pursuit of stolen car

Ramsey County commissioners said Tuesday they’ve been hearing from people concerned about Sheriff Bob Fletcher’s pursuit of a vehicle in St. Paul last week, but they also said he sets policy for his own department.

The chase of the stolen vehicle, which Fletcher live-streamed during his regular “Live On Patrol” on Facebook, ended with the driver’s arrest. Fletcher said people have left hundreds of positive comments on social media about the pursuit and apprehension.

St. Paul police officers were not allowed to pursue because the city department’s policy specifies they only can chase if a person has committed a violent felony, is about to, or the person’s driving conduct “would pose an imminent and life-threatening danger.”

The Ramsey County sheriff’s office, which is not subject to the St. Paul policy, allows “pursuit of stolen vehicles as long as the risk doesn’t become severe,” Fletcher wrote on Facebook last week.

There’s not a current plan by county commissioners to review the sheriff’s office policy on chases.

“The board will continue to review feedback that we receive from our communities and to determine whether there will be a future need to consider additional focus in this area,” Chair Toni Carter said during Tuesday’s board meeting.

She said they take residents’ “concerns very seriously, knowing that high-speed chases in our neighborhoods do carry definite risk, including the potential of physical injury and/or loss of life by law enforcement officers or individuals that they may pursue and for innocent bystanders.”

Fletcher said Tuesday that he and “every police chief or sheriff in the country” knows “we need to ensure officers are trained” in balancing the apprehension of a suspect with the safety of the public.

DRIVER CHARGED IN 3 CHASES

On Nov. 18 about 10 p.m., St. Paul officers came across a man driving a stolen Volkswagen Jetta. Police behind the Jetta were in an unmarked squad, leading an officer to dispatch they couldn’t pursue and asking Fletcher to go in front of them.

Fletcher followed the Jetta in his unmarked squad, without emergency lights or sirens on for approximately seven minutes. The Jetta’s driver drove through red lights and stop signs, and went the wrong way down streets in the McDonough Homes area.

“Any time you’re following a stolen vehicle, you’re attempting to buy time until marked squads arrive and you’re thinking constantly about the best way to bring the vehicle to a halt,” Fletcher said.

After the man drove onto a sidewalk and back into the street, Fletcher activated his squad’s emergency lights and sirens and the Jetta continued on for about six more minutes. At the end, other deputies took the lead and a tire on the Jetta was deflated with stop-sticks. Fletcher estimated the driver’s top speeds were 45 mph.

Luis Reyes (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

The Ramsey county attorney’s office charged Luis Miguel Reyes, 26, with auto theft and fleeing police.

He was released from jail on Friday and South St. Paul police arrested him the next day, which resulted in the Dakota County attorney’s office charging him with fleeing from a peace officer.

Reyes also was charged in September with fleeing police from an August incident, during which police tried to stop a stolen vehicle in St. Paul and the driver fled at a high speed from a marked squad car, according to a criminal complaint.

Police discontinued the chase, but a helicopter followed. The driver ran and a police dog found Reyes hiding under another vehicle, the complaint said.

Reyes’ attorney in the St. Paul cases declined to comment Tuesday.

Fletcher wrote last week that the sheriff’s office policy for chases is based on police experience.

“The increase in carjackings and auto thefts, is in part driven by the criminals’ awareness that in some jurisdictions police officers are not allowed to pursue suspects,” he wrote. “We know from talking to suspects that they are aware that some officers are not allowed to chase vehicles. … This belief has emboldened the criminal element in our community to commit more crime.”

COMMISSIONERS RAISE CONCERNS

Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo said Tuesday she encouraged constituents who had concerns to contact her and the sheriff’s office, but she said “many members of my community have a fear of law enforcement.”

“I … will continue to use the position of my office to advocate for my constituents who have concerns … because they are very much feeling bullied into accepting whatever he is doing,” she said.

Fletcher said if people have input and don’t want to contact him directly, commissioners could send him emails with senders’ names removed.

Commissioners noted that the board doesn’t have oversight of Fletcher.

Still, Commissioner Jim McDonough said, “When we have an individual that chooses to operate outside those partnerships (with the community), disregard those values in our community … we do have a duty to be transparent in calling that out.”

Fletcher said the sheriff’s office pursuit policy is in line with other departments in the metro area and with expectations of Ramsey County residents “that we’ll actually attempt to arrest people who break the law.”

Read More