Cops' reckless driving in neighborhoods of color led to deaths of Black people, attorney says – Houston Chronicle

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Photographs of Autrey Davis, was killed after a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy collided with her while pursuing a suspected criminal, is on display during a press conference calling for the releasing of the deputy’s dash camera footage Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Davis family and Payne family, another victim died in a separate officer-invovled crashing, and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Attorney Ben Crump joins families of two victims, who lost their lives to local police driving in high speed, ask law enforcement agencies to release dash camera footages Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Both families and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Attorney Ben Crump joins families of two victims, who lost their lives to local police driving in high speed, ask law enforcement agencies to release dash camera footages Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Both families and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Simone Teal, mother of Autrey Davis, holds a framed picture of her 22-year-old daughter who was killed after a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy collided with her while pursuing a suspected criminal, during a press conference calling for the releasing of the deputy’s dash camera footage Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Davis family and Payne family, another victim died in a separate officer-invovled crashing, and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Harriet Payne, wife of Charles Payne Sr., and daughter, Kizz Goins, hold a photograph of 75-year-old Charles during a press conference calling for releasing of the dash camera footage Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Payne family and Davis family, another victim died in a separate officer-invovled crashing, and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Harriet Payne, wife of Charles Payne Sr., shares the loss of her husband of 57 years to a Houston Police officer driving in high speed during a press conference with the family of another victim, who lost her life in a separate police-involved crashing, and calls for releasing of the dash camera footages Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Both families and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Attorney Ben Crump, from left, joins Simone Teal and Harriet Payne, whose family members died in separate police-invovled crashing, calling for the releasing of the dash camera footages Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Teal lost her 22-year-old daughter, Autrey Davis, after a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy collided with her during a high-speed pursuit of a suspect. Payne lost her husband, Charles Payne Sr., to a Houston Police officer driving in high speed. Both families and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Simone Teal, from left, Harriet Payne and Roderick Dearborne, whose family members died in separate police-invovled crashing, calling for the releasing of the dash camera footages Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Teal lost her 22-year-old daughter, Autrey Davis, after a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy collided with her during a high-speed pursuit of a suspect. Payne lost her husband, Charles Payne Sr., to a Houston Police officer driving in high speed. Dearborne is the son-in-law of the Paynes. Both families and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Tiffany Verrett, sister of Autrey Davis, shares the loss of her sister, who was killed after a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy collided with her while pursuing a suspected criminal, during a press conference calling for the releasing of the deputy’s dash camera footage Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Davis family and Payne family, another victim died in a separate officer-invovled crashing, and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Attorney Ben Crump, from left, joins Simone Teal and Harriet Payne, whose family members died in separate police-invovled crashing, calling for the releasing of the dash camera footages Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Teal lost her 22-year-old daughter, Autrey Davis, after a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy collided with her during a high-speed pursuit of a suspect. Payne lost her husband, Charles Payne Sr., to a Houston Police officer driving in high speed. Both families and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Simone Teal, mother of 22-year-old Autrey Davis who was killed after a Harris County Sheriff’s deputy collided with her while pursuing a suspected criminal, is overcome with emotions during a press conference calling for the releasing of the deputy’s dash camera footage Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, in Houston. Davis family and Payne family, another victim died in a separate officer-invovled crashing, and their attorneys also call for law enforcement agencies to change their policies on high-speed pursuits.
Family members of two people who died in recent collisions with law enforcement officials on Thursday demanded justice, accountability and better adherence to pursuit policy.
Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney, and Andy Rubenstein, a Houston lawyer, are representing the families of 75-year-old Charles Payne and 22-year-old Autrey Davis. Both were killed in crashes that attorneys allege were caused by law enforcement negligence.
“You have these African Americans killed because it seems to be OK to exceed the speed limit in a dangerous way in our communities,” Crump said. “We’re going to be bringing every legal remedy possible to get these families justice.”
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High-speed police pursuits in neighborhoods with predominantly Black and brown residents are similar to shootings, no-knock warrants or other forms of excessive force by law enforcement officers that disproportionately target people of color, Crump said.
In neighborhoods with a large white population, Crump said, authorities tend to slow down at intersections, show restraint during pursuits or instead use technology to apprehend suspects.
“It’s not about training, in many regards, it’s about respect,” he said. “It’s about respect for our community and our lives and our children.”
Attorneys plan to file federal civil rights lawsuits in both cases. Neither has yet been filed.
Payne was driving home from church on Dec. 26 when a Houston police officer smashed into his Cadillac on Shepherd Drive in Independence Heights.
Last month, HPD released body camera footage as well as footage from surveillance cameras at a nearby businesses and said Officer Christopher Cabrera had been relieved of duty. The investigation remains ongoing, an HPD spokesman said Thursday, meaning no new information is available.
Now, Payne’s wife of six decades, seven children and 13 grandchildren are mourning the patriarch of the family. He was a confidante, mentor and spiritual adviser to his family and friends in the community, said his daughter, Kizz Goins.
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The family wants the officer to be charged with vehicular manslaughter. A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said the matter remains under review. Prosecutors will present the case to a grand jury to determine if charges are warranted.
“He killed my father,” Goins said about the police officer. “I feel like he should be held accountable because he’s not above the law.”
Doug Griffith, Houston Police Officers’ Union president, previously told the Chronicle that he thinks neither driver could see the other before the collision because another vehicle was blocking their line of vision.
“This is just a tragic accident,” he said.
For Harriet Payne, the man’s wife, her grandchildren keep asking: “Is papa coming back?”
She knows he’s not, but still listens for him coming down the hall and expects to hear him asking who’s going to make the morning coffee.
“I don’t have that anymore,” she said. “(It) seems like my life has been cut short.”
Christmas will never be the same again for the family, said son-in-law Roderick Dearborne, who rode his motorcycle to the scene of a different fatal crash involving a law enforcement officer roughly three weeks later.
A Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy was chasing a driver suspected of armed robbery shortly before 11 p.m. on Jan. 12 when he collided with a vehicle that was not involved in the chase.
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Driver Autrey Davis died in the crash. The young mother’s 3-year-old son sustained severe brain damage, according to the Davis family, and her 2-year-old daughter survived with no injuries.
An internal investigation into deputy Dontre Thomas remains ongoing, according to a sheriff’s office spokesman. Thomas is out on workman’s compensation as a result of his injuries.
Simone Teal, who stepped away from her injured grandson’s bedside to attend Thursday’s news conference, said she lost her daughter due to negligence. The family and attorneys are demanding release of the deputy’s dash camera footage.
“It could’ve been avoided,” she said, wiping tears.
Family members described Davis as a loving, funny woman with a vibrant personality. It’s tragic that her small children will grow up without their mother and learn about her only through photos and videos, relatives said.
Davis texted or FaceTimed with her sister every day, and last spoke to her cousin on a family Zoom call four days before her death.
“We laughed and we joked and we said our ‘I love you’s’ and our ‘goodbye’s,” said Chalinda Johnson, the woman’s cousin. “But I didn’t want it to be the last goodbye.”
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Anna Bauman is a reporter for the Houston Chronicle.
Before coming to Houston, Anna covered breaking news for The San Francisco Chronicle metro desk. A Kansas City native, Anna graduated from the University of Oklahoma, where she studied English and worked at the OU Daily student newspaper.
She likes running, reading and the Kansas City Chiefs.
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