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a memorial for Leneal Lamont Frazier
Items rest at a memorial for Leneal Lamont Frazier on July 7 at the site of his death in Minneapolis. Frazier died early July 6 after his vehicle was struck by a squad car that police said was pursuing another driver linked to several robberies. (AP file photo: Antranik Tavitian/Star Tribune)

Minneapolis officer charged in pursuit that killed motorist

A Minneapolis police officer has been charged with manslaughter and vehicular homicide in a fatal crash in July that occurred while the officer was pursuing a stolen vehicle, a prosecutor announced Friday.

Officer Brian Cummings was driving nearly 80 mph in Minneapolis with his siren and lights activated when his squad car slammed into a vehicle, killing 40-year-old Leneal Frazier, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement. The chase continued for more than 20 blocks, including residential neighborhoods where the posted speed limit is 25 mph.

“Police are supposed to protect and serve citizens, and to act in a manner consistent with their sworn oath to do so. Officer Cummings’ actions deviated from his oath and his negligence caused the death of Leneal Frazier,” Freeman said.

Cummings’ attorney, Thomas Plunkett, declined to immediately comment. The city’s police union didn’t immediately respond to a message.

Frazier was the uncle of Darnella Frazier, whose cellphone video of Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck was viewed worldwide and helped launch a global protest movement against racial injustice. Chauvin was convicted of murder and sentenced this year in Floyd’s 2020 death.

The Frazier family, which had called for Cummings to be prosecuted in Frazier’s death, welcomed the charges as a first step toward justice, according to their lawyers, Ben Crump and Jeff Storms.

“The Frazier family and our legal team are grateful for the charges brought against Brian Cummings for the reckless killing of Leneal Frazier,” they said in a statement. “We commend the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for having the courage to hold law enforcement accountable in this instance. No innocent civilian should ever lose their life because of unwarranted high-speed chases in residential neighborhoods.”

Frazier’s family had earlier asked that Attorney General Keith Ellison take over the case. Activists have long complained that Freeman has been reluctant to prosecute police officers.

The charges against Cummings come one day after former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was re-sentenced on a manslaughter charge in the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was shot minutes after she had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home.

The charges against Cummings also come as Minneapolis voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to replace the city’s police department with a new public safety unit.

During Cummings’ chase, Frazier’s Jeep entered an intersection on a green light. According to investigators, the driver of the stolen vehicle narrowly missed Frazier’s Jeep before the squad car struck the vehicle on the driver’s side.

Cummings faces charges of second-degree manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide. An accident reconstruction report stated that “this collision can be attributed to the Defendant for failure to operate his vehicle with due regard for the safety of other motorists.”

Mayor Jacob Frey said after Frazier’s death that the city would review its pursuit policy. It wasn’t immediately clear Friday where that review stands. A police spokesman said this summer that the policy was properly followed in the chase.

 

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