Police Protection: Speeding While Silent

HPD policies governing lights, high speeds and sirens are supposedly there to safeguard the public. Tell that to Mattie Etubom.

They were turning left into the entrance of their gated South Braeswood complex when Officer Kyle Dozier, running silent at 84 miles per hour in a 35-mph zone, T-boned the couple's Scion.

"I saw the blinker coming toward me," Dozier said in his deposition after Medrano's family sued the city. "He turns in the median. I thought he stopped. But he kept coming towards...my lane. I was like, 'This is not good.' I knew if I hit the brakes, I was probably going to slide and hit him. So I just turned to the right. And that's when I saw a lady look me in the eye. And I saw someone's ear. And the next thing, I woke up and saw someone's hand in the window. And I thought it was a kid."

Of course, it was Medrano's hand.

Mattie Etubom and her boyfriend, James Williams, say their lives were turned upside down after the 2009 accident.
Daniel Kramer
Mattie Etubom and her boyfriend, James Williams, say their lives were turned upside down after the 2009 accident.
A Houston police officer had not activated his car's lights or siren when he hit Lashonda Rochelle's car in 2009. The police car, which may have contained crucial evidence in the case, was later blown up in bomb-squad practice.
Courtesy of Mike Phifer
A Houston police officer had not activated his car's lights or siren when he hit Lashonda Rochelle's car in 2009. The police car, which may have contained crucial evidence in the case, was later blown up in bomb-squad practice.

In the ambulance on the way to Ben Taub, according to the lawsuit, Medrano struggled against her restraints to try to pull the oxygen mask from her face. She died shortly after arrival.

Dozier, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, broke his neck but made a full recovery.

Unlike in the Etubom case, there was significant media coverage of Medrano's death. And since it was a fatality case, there appears to have been one of those "thorough investigations" McClelland spoke about. Evidence was preserved. No police cars were blown up.

While those factors may have contributed to the city's decision to settle, it was originally determined to defend itself to the fullest. One of the city's experts, a professor of environmental physiology, was prepared to testify that a major factor in the accident was not so much a car driving 50 miles an hour over the speed limit in a residential neighborhood at night but Jorge Medrano's jet lag, which disrupted his "circadian rhythm."

The city maintained that Dozier was responding to an emergency and, like Parker, was acting in good faith.

According to depositions, Dozier was actually assisting on a call dispatched to another officer — not an unusual practice. A woman driving home from a club on the 59 feeder near Fondren had called 911 to say she was being followed by two men who had been at the same club. The call came in at 12:29 a.m.; at 12:35, dispatch records stated, "Suspect finally turned around and is no longer following...Complainant no longer needs police."

Dozier stated in his deposition that what he learned about responding to priority two calls — how General Order 600-01 was explained — was different from what he saw in the field afterward.

"The academy tells you state law," he said. "Training was different."

Earlier in the deposition, he said, "I don't know how to explain it. Like I said, the academy tells you black and white, what's in the — what's on paper. Training shows you real, live scenarios on what happens. Training taught me to treat everything as a worst-case scenario. So you expect the worst for everything and do the best you can to help — help the citizens out, I guess you can say."

The officer who was assigned to the call that night, Ramnik Saini, said the same.

In his deposition, he stated that his superiors in the field told him that he could in certain cases break the speed limit while running silent, in violation of General Order 600-01.

"Yes, they told me I could go faster," Saini said. "I mean, in the streets things are different...You know, if there's nobody in the road, you can go fast. I mean, if there's traffic, of course you're going to follow all the laws."

After his actions on the night of the fatal accident were investigated, Dozier was suspended for ten days without pay. In his deposition, he said the suspension was for "no seat belt and poor judgment." But he didn't really know what the "poor judgment" part was — he already knew he had "messed up," so he "just didn't read" the suspension papers.

When the Medranos' attorney asked Dozier if, looking back, he would have done anything differently that night, he said, "May[be] have my seat belt on." Dozier followed up by saying that not wearing a seat belt was really the only thing he should have been disciplined for.

The attorney, Richard Lagarde, thinks that may have been the point at which the city decided it might be best to settle.

"That was the ultimate callous response, in my mind," he says. "And I suspect they didn't want to hear that being played back to the jury in our case. I mean, here you've just killed a lady — he testified that he literally saw her hand go up to her...side window to try to shield off his car that's coming at her at 80-something miles an hour, and no regret, no remorse...That's cold."
_____________________

'There are two victims in this case — one was Mattie Etubom; the other was the truth," Mike Phifer says. "And the city ran over both."

But it's uncertain if he'll have the chance to prove that in court. Although the retrial was set for March 25, it's been stayed pending a motion to vacate Hinde's motion for a new trial.

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8 comments
paval
paval

This reminds me of an old joke about insurance sales people. A friend told one insurance agent: 

"I have fire, water, earthquake, car, home, hurricane, bad weather, good weather, etc. insurance. The only insurance I do not have is one against insurance agents"


In this case, police is supposed to be our protector against the bad people, but who protects us citizens of an over-eager, under-trained, overly fraternal, contradictorially regulated, police force, our servers and protectors.?


JoeAngel
JoeAngel

What an absolute outrage. I'm so tired of the corruption in HPD and our City.  

Dodd Melcher
Dodd Melcher

Almost universally as far as I know, police are a fraternal organization that will protect their own no matter what.

Robin Varner
Robin Varner

I shared this earlier because like so many of the articles the Press writes about, peoples lives are forever changed in drastic ways

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

HPD we're supposed to enforce the laws but they do not apply to us.. Can't tell you how many times I've seen an HPD cruiser headed down West Dallas at 90-100 MPH with no lights on, only using them to run red lights, and the posted speed limit is 30. This happens near daily..

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Now that I mention that there are now 2-3 speed traps in the afternoon on W Dallas.  Consider yourself warned, looking for folks hauling tail out of downtown towards Montrose. HPD will exceed the speed limit by 2-3x, while you will get a ticket for 35, aww isn't hypocrisy grand.


MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

When I rode a bicycle in Houston, I was regularly harrassed by cops--one even ticketed me for failure to make a complete stop at a stop sign. Not all cops were like that though. There were several cops who nearly hit me while talking on cell phones or flying down the street without lights/sirens. 

 
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