Families urge law enforcement agencies to think twice before chasing suspects

ATLANTA — A drive to midtown Atlanta with family and friends to pick up dinner turned deadly last fall when a man caught speeding the next county over refused to stop for police.

At about 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2020, Georgia State Patrol clocked Shamir Floyd, 28, driving a BMW I8 going 125 miles per hour on Interstate 75 south in Cobb County, according to the GSP crash report. When the officer turned on his blue lights to pull the BMW over, Floyd hit the gas.

The trooper said Floyd nearly hit other drivers swerving to exit onto Techwood Drive in midtown. After running a red light, then a stop sign, Floyd’s car crashed into several cars on 10th Street, according to the incident report.

Floyd ran away from the wreck, leaving a car full of critically injured friends in the intersection. The two youngest passengers, three-month-old Kayden Goode and 18-year-old Anjanae McClain, died from their injuries.

“They’re supposed to be here now. They was stolen from us. It’s not fair,” said Anjanae’s mother Qiana Harlem.

Harlem said Anjanae had just graduated from Norcross High School and was planning on going to college for early childhood education. Little Kayden was her godson. His mother, Emeral Benson, was also badly injured in the wreck.

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Benson has no memory of the crash, only the horror when she woke up in the hospital without her child and best friend.

“This is like all I have left of my son, his remains and his remains in here.” Benson showed Channel 2′s Michael Seiden a teddy bear that contains Kayden’s remains. “He was starting to teeth. He was starting to crawl.”

Floyd was caught a month later and is in the Fulton County Jail without bond. His public defender did not return Channel 2′s request for comment.

Harlem said she’s devastated by Floyd’s actions, but said GSP is also responsible for her daughter’s death. She said they made a dangerous situation deadly when the trooper chased a suspect driving dangerously who refused to stop.

“I understand that he broke the law, you know,” Harlem said. “But why put everybody else in danger trying to get that one person?”

State law allows law enforcement agencies to set their own policies and procedures. GSP’s policy states they will make “reasonable efforts” go after suspects that run. Some agencies only chase when it’s a major crime, and a few don’t chase at all.

GSP would not do an on-camera interview with Seiden because the Floyd case is ongoing. They answered Channel 2′s questions about their policy via email.

Channel 2 asked 67 metro agencies to share their chase numbers from 2017 through fall of 2020.

GSP had the most chases, over 2,700, but they are a statewide agency exclusively working highways and roadways. Henry County had 253 pursuits, and seven agencies had more than 100, including DeKalb, Cobb and Paulding counties.

Two dozen agencies had less than 20 and Chattahoochee Hills, Lithonia and Milton said they did not participate in any chases during that time period.

“I don’t think that anybody looks forward to getting into a chase,” said Butch Ayers, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.

GACP runs a voluntary state certification program for Georgia law enforcement. Of the state’s nearly 600 agencies, only 140 are state certified, according to Ayers. State certified agencies follow best practices on training and policies, and report detailed information about their pursuits to GACP.

It’s the closest thing to a statewide analysis of chases.

In 2019, 85% of certified agencies participated in pursuits. The majority of those chases, 46%, lasted between two and five minutes, and 37% lasted less than one mile.

But in 21% of chases, a bystander vehicle was hit and in 5% there were bystander injuries.

A proposed law would create more oversight when it comes to policy. SB 138 says police could not chase suspects unless they have probable cause that the person pursued committed murder, aggravated battery, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery or any other crime that threatens immediate death or serious injury.

While GACP’s model pursuit policy includes similarities to SB 138, Ayers said as an organization, GACP has concerns over the bill mandating a “one-size fits all” standard across the state. He does support more oversight, including statewide pursuit data tracking and additional pursuit training for police.

Seiden traveled to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth to learn more about pursuit training available to law enforcement. State trainers said officers get the best training and equipment money can buy.

Seiden rode with a trainer on the road course used to test advanced pursuit training. Each cone on that simulation course represents other drivers and pedestrians on the road. If an officer hits one they fail. In fact, the course has about a 20% failure rate.

“Those physiological factors come into play where they get the tunnel vision and they’re focused on the tag of the vehicle that they’re pursuing, and they become oblivious to their surroundings, that’s the biggest mistake,” explained Griffin Attaberry, supervisor over vehicle operations section at GPSTC.

Mothers Qiana Harlem and Emeral Benson want officers to think of their own families before chasing a suspect.

“I’ll see my daughter get married. I’ll never see her have kids,” said Harlem. “All I got is pictures and videos of my daughter. She was stolen from me.”