A Louisville, Kentucky, woman was killed in a high-speed chase as police pursued a drug suspect last Tuesday and a St. Paul, Minnesota, man was shot and killed by police officers trying to arrest him on crack cocaine charges that same day. Stephanie Melson, 31, and Victor Gaddy, 41, become the 52nd and 53rd persons to die in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.
While Louisville police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley wouldn't initially confirm that a high-speed chase had taken place, she did say the incident began as a drug investigation. Detectives were investigating at 40th Street and Broadway when a pick-up fled the scene. Police pursued it several blocks before it ran a stop sign and collided with Melson's vehicle.
"They still have to review the in-car video," Smiley said. "They still have to interview the officers as well as the guy who's in the hospital [Johnson, the suspect]."
But eyewitness Nita Gardner told the Louisville Courier-Journal she was sitting on her front porch with a friend one house away from the intersection where the accident occurred when they saw Melson's car approach the intersection. At that point, she said, they heard sirens, "and at the same time, the truck just came and smashed her. He rammed her, which pushed her car all the way four houses down and she flipped," Gardner said.
Gardner said she blamed police for Melson's death. "If the police were not chasing that man, he wouldn't have did that. I don't think he woke up to say, 'I'm going to kill this woman," she said. "The truck came fast first, but the police car was right behind him -- not a second behind him, like right behind him," with five or six unmarked cars also following, she said.
Kerry King, the father of Melson's three children, told the Courier-Journal the next day that he held Johnson responsible for her death, but also the police.
"Just as the man who ran into her is responsible, the Louisville police department shares a responsibility too," said King. "These streets aren't that wide. They don't need to be flying through here. It's sickening and it needs to stop."
Police charged Johnson with murder in Melson's death. He is also charged with fleeing police, disregarding a traffic control device, two counts of trafficking in a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, and receiving stolen property. Police said they found large amounts of cocaine in his vehicle and more cocaine and guns at his home.
Louisville police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said last Wednesday that the department's Professional Standards Unit would review whether officers complied with policies on pursuits. Those policies say police "must weigh the immediate danger or the potential danger to the public, should the suspect be allowed to remain at large, against the danger or potential danger created by the pursuit itself."
"Every pursuit is always evaluated to see what could have been done differently," Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, undercover Minneapolis police had enlisted the help of St. Paul police to stop Gaddy, whom they had been informed was delivering crack cocaine. When unmarked police cars boxed in Gaddy's vehicle, police said he rammed into the police cars in front of and behind him.
Gaddy "accelerated rapidly toward one of the police vehicles, striking it and nearly pinning a St. Paul police officer between the suspect vehicle and the police vehicle," then reversed and rammed another vehicle, police said. "Several officers were in harm's way while the driver of the suspect vehicle appeared to use his car as a weapon," leading officers to shoot him.
But Gaddy's nephew, Terrence Wilson, 20, who was a passenger in the car and whom police have charged with drug possession, disputes the police account, his attorney said.
"He thinks the police murdered his uncle and doesn't think his uncle was doing anything aggressive to police," attorney Bruce Wenger said. "The police felt threatened, apparently, by his (Gaddy's) driving, but my client has said his uncle was not using his car as a weapon as the police have indicated."
Gaddy had a long criminal history with several drug convictions and was known as a crack supplier by Minneapolis police. They found nearly an ounce of crack in and around his vehicle after the shooting.
His older sister, Rayela Gaddy, told the Pioneer Press said she wouldn't "paint some pretty picture" of him but said he wasn't a "menace" as police portrayed him. "A lot of people do things they shouldn't do, but as far as being a 41-year-old man who is executed in the middle of the street, who is unarmed, who is in his car -- whatever kind of person he was, it didn't justify killing him," she said.
Gaddy said she didn't think her brother would try to escape police or ram their cars. "I think he knew the procedure," she said of his having being arrested before. She added that the family would pursue justice for her brother in the courts.