Friday night Flagler County Sheriff was on one of his usual weekly patrols, driving an unmarked, department-issued Ford Explorer and figuring it’d be a busy night with the last weekend of Bike Week, St. Patrick’s Day, and the usual Friday follies.
One of those follies sprang up in his rear-view mirror as he was patrolling south at dusk on I-95, from Palm Coast Parkway to State Road 100: a copper-colored Camaro was weaving in and out of traffic and zoomed past him at an estimated 90 mph. What followed was an almost-chase (“I found out a Ford Explorer is no match for a Camaro,” the sheriff said), an alert to deputies to be on the lookout for the Camaro as it eventually sped south on Seminole Woods Boulevard, the deployment of stop sticks, which didn’t stop the Camaro but did puncture another deputy’s wheels, and a reconsideration, for Staly, of his department’s pursuit policy.
“These gang members, these criminals, they know that law enforcement generally will not chase a stolen car,” Staly said, suspecting that the driver of the Camaro was at the wheel of a stolen car, “so I’m reviewing policies from other agencies to look at, can I relax that, still balancing the safety of my deputies and the safety of my citizens to be able to send a message: don’t come to Flagler County, do your burglaries, steal a car, because we’re going to put you in jail, and we’re going to catch you.”
Just not that Friday evening.
When Staly saw the Camaro speed by, he turned on his emergency lights. Traffic was heavy. He couldn’t weave his way to a clear pursuit of the Camaro. “He must have seen the blue lights come on because all he did was floor it, or she, I didn’t know who the driver was,” the sheriff said. “He was pulling from me like I was sitting still.”
The sheriff was able to follow the Camaro only briefly before he turned off the emergency lights, figuring there was no way to catch up to the driver, who then made an unexpected turn onto State Road 100, then what appeared to be another turn south on Seminole Woods Boulevard. The sheriff alerted other deputies of the Seminole Woods turn. One deputy clocked the Camaro going over 100 on Seminole Woods.
“I directed that if we could stop-stick the vehicle, that I authorized it before we tried to do a traffic stop on him because obviously by his action we felt he was going to try to flee and run, and I believe in being tactically smart,” Saly said. If someone is going to endanger other drivers, he wants deputies to use what tools they have to stop the vehicle “before you activate your lights,” and before a chase.
A deputy threw stop-sticks on U.S. 1 just south of the intersection with Seminole Woods Boulevard. The deputy thinks a stick got at least one of the Camaro’s tires, but the car must have had so-called run-flat tires, which are standard on certain vehicles, and are manufactured in such a way that the car can keep traveling for up to 100 miles despite a puncture.
“I know that we flattened a deputy’s tires,” Staly said, “because he ran over the stop sticks after that.” The reason: “The deputy that threw them out lost his grip on the cord so he couldn’t get them back off the street” in time.
The Camaro is believed to have traveled down to Old Dixie near the White Eagle Lounge and back on to I-95.
“My speculation and that’s all it is, because we were never close enough to get a tag number,” Staly said, “is I would suspect it was a stolen car, because we have a problem with gang members stealing cars, they’re either coming out of Jacksonville or coming out of Volusia with these stolen cars, and they know we won’t chase them because of the danger involved in chasing like that.”
The Flagler County Sheriff’s pursuit policy—or “Vehicle Apprehension,” as it’s called—is strict: “As the goal of the FCSO is the protection of life and property,” it states, “the circumstance under which Deputies may engage in motor vehicle apprehensions is strictly regulated.” (See the full policy below.)
In essence, “Deputies may engage in a vehicle pursuit when there is reasonable belief the suspect committed or attempted to commit a forcible felony which involved the actual or threatened use of deadly force,” the policy states. So speeding, burglaries, theft or even drunk driving don’t rate as reasons for pursuit: “Pursuits are not authorized for misdemeanor offenses, non-forcible felonies, traffic, civil infractions or for suspects who are wanted for a violation of probation warrant (VOP) for any offense.” And pursuits must be approved by a platoon commander (though the sheriff is his own commander).
Did the sheriff break his own policy? He would have had he actually set chase, but,he says, he never actually chased the vehicle. And the same policy lays out the permissible circumstances for stop sticks, which he ordered: Deputies are authorized to deploy the sticks when there is “a reasonable belief that the driver will flee upon the sight of law enforcement or after being directed to stop,” among other circumstances. “In instances where immediate apprehension cannot be affected with reasonable safety, Deputies will try to obtain enough information to make a future arrest without having to engage in a vehicle apprehension.” (Pit maneuvers, where a cop’s vehicle is used to strike another vehicle in such a way as to spin it out of control, is not permissible in any circumstance, nor is Staly interested in making that permissible: it’s too dangerous, and it damages the department’s own vehicles, he says.)
In Friday’s incident as Staly described it, a chase was not feasible, stop sticks were, but in the end proved ineffective. (Staly, incidentally, met Ken Greves, the inventor of stop sticks, when Staly was undersheriff at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which was at one time the largest agency in the nation to use the nascent device. Greves invented them in the mid-1990s in his garage, when he was with the Indiana State Police.)
“Normally we would not use stop sticks on a reckless driver but he was driving so erratic and so dangerous that he was endangering the other drivers,” Staly said, explaining his order to deploy the sticks. Since he was not involved in an actual chase, there was no administrative review of the incident.
But he does intend to review the policy.
A USA Today investigation in 2015 found that “More than 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed in police car chases since 1979, and tens of thousands more were injured as officers repeatedly pursued drivers at high speeds and in hazardous conditions, often for minor infractions.”
Asked how a less-strick policy would ensure that local pursuits don’t increase dangers posed to innocent bystanders, Staly said, “that’s the balance that I have to analyze and see if I can find a balance. Some of this is some common sense stuff, like tactical deployment of the stop sticks, before you turn on the blue lights.”
Staly has been conducting ride-alongs for county commissioners recently. But he was alone Friday, which did prove to be a busy night, with an attempted suicide by firearm on Ocean Shore Boulevard, several vehicle crashes, and Staly’s involvement in a drunk-driving arrest of a woman who “caused a crash and smelled like a brewery,” and had been working on a work permit license because of a previous drunk-driving conviction.
Flagler County Sheriff’s Pursuit Policy (2017)
I was a huge critic of Staly during the campaign but I truly appreciate the restraint he showed in this instance. It’s easy to get mad and want to have the proverbial last word or last laugh. This situation had the potential to be disastrous if a Dukes of Hazzard style chase ensued through a residential neighborhood (MY neighborhood, by the way).
Sheriff Staly did what was best for the other people on the road rather than try to satisfy some kind of primal urge to win. For that I commend him.
Just shoot the tires out or ram them off the road. YOU are the Sheriff.Stop playing patty cake with thugs . put them out of business.Nice job….
Police should not be allowed to take pursuit of any vehicle at high speeds, it’s jus too dangerous for citizens on the street, or passengers in the car being chased. Stop the madness
Good call. Stolen cars will be paid by insurance company if they had insurance. Too my stolen car chases end with the stolen car crashing and totaled so insurance would still have to pay. Loosing a life over the value of a car is never acceptable.
Sandi Sites says
SW – for heaven sake, if it was too crowded to follow him, I can’t imagine it would be safe to SHOOT at the car? Plus if he was not driving a stolen car, should he be shot for speeding?? Not that being shot at for a stolen car would be appropriate. Not to mention the other drivers in the way. Geez. Chill.
John F. Pollinger says
SW: Shoot the tires? Ram them off the road? Seriously?
Donnie riddle says
It’s nice to have a sheriff that is a working sheriff and gets out there with his men. The bad guys ain’t gonna run by the sheriff’s desk in his office.
Sw… Are you really serious? Shoot the tires out? You really want LEOs driving at high speeds with one hand, the other hand out the window shooting at the tires of a vehicle also traveling at a high speed? If so, you have been watching way too many Hollywood movies.
Sheriff Staly used judgement and common sense in his actions keeping the public’s safety in mind. I am thankful we elected an intelligent and level headed sheriff and I commend him for his actions and his leadership.
After all that, no arrest? Did someone at least get the license number? Maybe stop by the house the next day? Was it for sure stolen? We’ve all seen the weaving in and out and high speed on 95. Jax to St Augustine is a racetrack. They hit 100 pm a regular basis up there. Flattened another cops tires? Was there a reprimand? It sounds like Smokey and the Bandit.
Florida voter says
I would think Sheriff Staly would also want to extend V.F.1.a:
“If a vehicle apprehension appears to be continuing outside Flagler County, the pursuing Deputy will instruct the Communications Section to notify the other jurisdiction into which the vehicle apprehension is entering and request their assistance. ” (sorry for the bad cut&paste, it’s coming from the pdf)
This was a terminated Vehicle apprehension that probably extended into Ormond Beach / Daytona Beach / Volusia County. What makes Staley think that the driver will suddenly start following traffic laws? If the driver is aggressive enough to flee, and aggressive enough to escape the pursuit, the “other jurisdiction” might want to know. Maybe policy should be to notify neighboring jurisdictions when his office has to terminate a pursuit, not just when it extends beyond his jurisdiction.
Obviously Staly doesn’t know how to use a radio to notify other neighboring agencies. How many copper colored Camaro’s are there in the Daytona area? Was the deputy that ran over the stop sticks named Fife?
Good call by the Sheriff not to chase the car. But assumed it was a stolen car driven by a gang member is a bad attitude, and the county is paying him to work in the County let FHP take care of the Federal Highway. I do have to say overall Staly is a good Sheriff, but relaxing the pursuit regulation is a bad Idea, innocent citizens are going to get killed for a speeding ticket.
Charles F. Ericksen, Jr says
It’s amazing how many experts, and wanna be experts are in Flagler..
Shoot the tires out?? Follow /don’t follow? Do this, Do that …
This radical ,driver was a threat , and will get his/her due some day
At least he’s/she’s OUT of the County ,, Good riddance
So basically the Sheriff is telling the criminal elements, rob,steal,kill, then just go fast in a vehicle and we won’t chase you. Great!
ed james says
great work sheriff, i commend you!!
Bill harvey says
It’s good that the sheriff is out there working with the deputies this way he gets to see what they go through and will be more receptive to their suggestions in improving the department