DA: fatal police shooting ‘accidental’; name of officer not released
The scene in Franklin Township where a suspect was wounded by an officer after a 17-mile chase. COPYRIGHT LARRY NEFF/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
The Carbon County District Attorney’s office has ruled that a fatal police shooting following a cross-county chase last month was accidental. District Attorney Jean A. Engler said the officer will not be charged.
Engler released a report Tuesday morning regarding the chase that left one dead in Lehighton. She said her office will not release the name of the officer or police department involved in the shooting during the scuffle that broke out following the 17-mile chase.
“In a criminal investigation, if any citizen were the subject of a criminal investigation and no charges were filed we would not release the name,” Engler said. She added that she is following the best practices set by the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association for officer-involved shootings.”
According to the report, at approximately 5 p.m. on Dec. 18, Beaver Meadows police Chief Mike Moressi was alerted to a white van driving erratically.
He located the vehicle and tried to activate a traffic stop, but after stopping briefly, the van sped away along Route 93.
The chase continued through Packer Township, Nesquehoning, Jim Thorpe and ended along Route 209 in Franklin Township.
The occupants of the van threw out several items during the pursuit, later retrieved and determined to be stolen bank checks and was clocked going over 90 mph.
Spike strips were deployed in the area of the Thomas J. McCall Memorial Bridge in Lehighton, which damaged the van’s tires, causing the driver to slow down and finally stop in the northbound lanes of Route 209 in Franklin Township.
The van was surrounded and the occupants ordered to get out of the vehicle.
When the middle seat occupant on the driver’s side, identified as Danny Washington of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, failed to comply with commands, the report says, he was removed from the vehicle by an officer. The two then struggled.
During the struggle, the pair collided into an assisting officer, whose weapon discharged, the report continues, wounding Washington.
He was transported by helicopter to St. Luke’s Allentown Campus, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed the cause of death was a single gunshot wound.
“It all happened so quickly,” Engler said, adding that all the police accounts and the citizen witness accounts were the same.
“We were lucky to have witnesses whose descriptions were identical to the officer who was bumped,” Engler said.
She said Washington resisted arrest and they struggled.
“They collided with another officer whose weapon was drawn and it discharged. It all happened very quickly,” Engler said.
An independent investigation was conducted by Pennsylvania State Police and tests on the officer’s gun were conducted.
The report says “Based on a careful review of the copious evidence gathered during the investigation ... my formal ruling is that the shooting was accidental. Consequently, there is no basis to file charges against the officer whose weapon discharged and none will be filed. It is unfortunate that Mr. Washington lost his life during this encounter, but it is also abundantly clear from both civilian and police eye witnesses that Mr. Washington’s own conduct in failing to comply and physically struggle with the officers contributed to his being shot and killed.”
Four other people who were in the van and did get out the other side have also been arrested and charged.
Mitchell Knight, Creshaun Caldwell, Cedric Cason and Tyrone Parker, all from Florida, face multiple counts of receiving stolen property for the stolen checks.
Knight, who was the driver, is also facing charges of fleeing and eluding police.
Marta Gouger contributed to this report.