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Expert says officer arrested in deadly crash did not follow state, federal pursuit policies

1 year 6 months 2 weeks ago Monday, January 02 2023 Jan 2, 2023 January 02, 2023 4:24 PM January 02, 2023 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - A law enforcement expert with decades of experience — who also helped write pursuit policies for some local law enforcement agencies — says the Addis police officer who killed two teen girls in West Baton Rouge violated state and national pursuit protocols.

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Scott Courrege said Louisiana law gives a little more leeway than the national standard.

"Louisiana law allows officers to speed while in pursuit of a suspected violator of the law," Courrege said. "It also allows them to run red lights. The law narrows that down and says they have to slow or stop to allow for safe operation. If that officer did not apply brakes, and was going over 80 miles an hour facing a red light, he would not be in compliance with the statute that allows him to engage in those activities."

The crash happened around noon Saturday, on New Year's Eve. One day later, the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office arrested Addis Officer David Cauthron. Cauthron has been with the Addis Police Department for less than a year.

"It's very concerning," Courrege said. "You look at any pursuit situation or any law enforcement action and weigh the government interest compared to the risk to the public. In this situation, there's a lot of unknown facts, but the government interest seems to be way less than the risk to the public as shown by the outcome of this case."

Sources told WBRZ that the GPS inside Cauthron's vehicle showed he was going about 86 miles per hour and did not hit his brakes before impact. Witnesses said Cauthron ran a red light and that the light had been red for about 20 seconds when his police unit reached the intersection. 

The police unit struck the victims' car, pushing it into the median of the highway. Two of the occupants, 17-year-old Maggie Dunn and 16-year-old Caroline Gill, were pronounced dead, and a third victim, Dunn's teenage brother, was taken to a hospital in critical condition. Sources said the teens were heading to a store just minutes from home. 

Investigators reviewed dash camera video and other footage from the crash before deciding to arrest Cauthron. He joined Addis Police in February 2022 and previously worked at the Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff's Office.

The crash happened on LA 1 in Brusly while officers were pursuing suspect Tyquel Zanders. The chase started in a Baton Rouge neighborhood when Zanders stole a family member's vehicle.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit learned that Baton Rouge Police pulled off the chase once it got into West Baton Rouge.

Zanders led authorities through East and West Baton Rouge parishes, and police ultimately stopped Zanders on I-10, near Dalrymple Drive, after he made it back into the capital city. Prosecutors said he will also face additional charges for the deadly crash.

"The national standard for pursuits or running code as we say, requires officers to do more than Louisiana law," Courrege said. "Most training and policies requires officers to stop at intersections which our law does not require. It requires them to clear each lane of travel, one lane at a time."

Cauthron remains jailed on a $100,000 bond.

District Attorney Tony Clayton said Cauthron was still in jail as Tuesday and released the following statement.

“My office will conduct a thorough investigation of the case, including analyzing all police unit dash camera and officer camera footage, communication with the officer, and interviews with witnesses; and will present the case to a grand jury,” said 18th Judicial District Attorney Tony Clayton.

“We will follow the facts of the case, but I cannot understand why the officer was driving at
such a high rate of speed through a red light,” DA Clayton said. “Sirens and police vehicles do not give an officer the authority to cut through a red light. They must slow down or come to a complete stop when human life is in danger. In this case, evidence appears to show that the officer was grossly negligent, and the lives of these young people would not have been taken had he exercised common sense.”

“If it involves putting human life in danger, stop the damn pursuit. It's just not worth the risk. This is a tragic case that has impacted many families and an entire community, and
ended the lives of young people with a promising future ahead of them. It’s very sad.”

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