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Police detail evidence in chase that ended in shooting

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    Tyrone Wesley Parker Jr.

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    Mitchell Lawrence Knight

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    Cedric Lamont Cason

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    Creshaun Demetrick Caldwell

Published February 11. 2019 02:39PM

Police officers from multiple Carbon County departments recalled in court on Monday the high-speed chase which took place just before the fatal shooting of a Florida man.

The death of 27-year-old Danny Washington has been ruled as an accidental police shooting by the Carbon County District Attorney’s Office. He was shot when he backed into an officer’s gun while struggling with another officer who was attempting to arrest him following the chase.

Four other men who were in a minivan during the Dec. 18 chase across the county were in court on Monday facing charges of receiving stolen property. The man who police believe was driving the van, Mitchell Lawrence Knight, is facing more serious charges.

“We had a police eyewitness who identified him as coming from the driver’s seat,” said Carbon County District Attorney Jean Engler.

They further allege that the men received stolen property because they were found with large amounts of cash, and two stolen checkbooks were thrown from the vehicle during the chase. Checks from those checkbooks were fraudulently cashed the day before the chase.

Defense attorneys for the four clients asked Judge William Kissner to dismiss charges against them because they said prosecutors didn’t produce enough evidence to link them to the stolen checks.

Kissner denied their motions, setting the stage for the charges to go to trial.

He also denied requests from the attorneys to reduce bail for the four men: Knight, Cedric Lamont Cason, Creshaun Demetrick Caldwell and Tyrone Wesley Parker Jr.

Beaver Meadows Police Chief Mike Moressi testified about his initial attempt to stop the vehicle, after a woman alerted him that the van was driving erratically through town.

Moressi said the driver of the van began to stop, but then took off when Moressi started getting out of his vehicle. Moressi then began a pursuit and contacted dispatchers looking for backup.

As he traveled along Route 93 over the Broad Mountain, Moressi saw someone inside the van throw paper out the windows of the van. He thought it was cash, but another police officer went back and discovered they were blank checks which were determined to have been stolen from Lackawanna County.

Suspects in van

Mahoning Township officer Tyler Meek testified that he was one of the officers who removed the men from the vehicle. He said he could see Knight climbing from the driver’s seat back into the middle row of seats, and out the sliding side door.

Caldwell burst out during Meek’s testimony, saying Knight was not driving the vehicle. Meek said he couldn’t see who was driving during the chase, because the car had dark tinted windows, but he was confident that Knight was the driver.

Meek did not testify about who shot Washington.

Meek said he joined the search in Jim Thorpe borough. He said he saw the vehicle run five to 10 vehicles off the road and cross the double yellow line repeatedly while he followed it from Jim Thorpe to Lehighton. Even after police used spike strips to deflate the tires, the driver continued into opposing traffic along the Thomas J. McCall Memorial Bridge.

Trooper Justin Leri testified that he was assigned to find the owner of the checks which were discovered on Route 93.

He said he contacted police in Lackawanna County and found that the checks which were found were reported stolen after separate break-ins. The victims were both women who said someone broke into their vehicles and stole their purses.

Leri learned that a woman had cashed three of the stolen checks the day before the chase. The woman used the ID from one of the victims to cash two checks, and it appeared she altered her appearance to look more like the victim to fool the bank teller, Leri said.

Fifteen checks were recovered.

Scranton Police are still investigating the break-ins.

Trooper Nicholas De La Iglesia testified about searching the van after police obtained a warrant. He said they seized a rental agreement for the vehicle in the name of Craig Johnson, suspected marijuana and a receipt from a KFC restaurant in Hazleton.

The trooper leading the investigation for state police, Cpl. Brian Silliman, testified that he took notice of the large amount of cash that each man was carrying, rolled up or folded, especially in light of the fact that checks were missing. He said Cason had $4,200, Knight had $2,565; Parker had $2,390; and Caldwell had $1,362.

Silliman said he suspected the money was ill-gotten because Cason had money in his wallet in addition to the rolled-up bills.

After the prosecutors rested their case, defense attorneys for the four suspects asked for charges to be dismissed.

Knight’s attorney, Nino Tinari, said that police couldn’t tell his client was driving, because the windows of the vehicle were tinted too dark. He added that there’s no established connection between the cash found on his client and the stolen checks which prosecutors allege were thrown from the vehicle.

Tinari said the marijuana charges against Knight should also be dismissed because there’s no evidence that any of the five occupants possessed it. Tinari said when drugs are recovered from a vehicle, the owner — or in this case renter — of the vehicle is responsible. The person whose name was on the rental agreement wasn’t in the vehicle.

Adam Weaver, attorney for Cedric Cason, pointed out that the checks were cashed by women. He said there is no evidence against his client other than the fact that there was a checkbook thrown out of a vehicle in which his client was a passenger.

Outside the courtroom, Knight’s girlfriend said the officers exaggerated some parts of the story. Another supporter, Imajica Mottley, said the men are all fathers, and they should be freed on bail for the sake of their children. She also questioned the district attorney’s determination that the shooting was accidental.

“How could it be an accident? It’s just, I’m lost for words, it’s just really sad they would do this to these people,” she said.

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