Among the issues being examined, according to police officials, is whether the officer should have begun the chase, whether he broke it off after a supervisor told him to stop and if he notified the supervisor quickly enough for him to make an informed decision early enough in the process.
The radio transmissions indicate the officer was about one mile into the pursuit when he notified the dispatch center at 9:08 p.m. A supervisor took about four minutes to conclude the hit-and-run — with only property damage and no injuries — wasn’t serious enough to warrant a chase.
At 9:12 p.m., he radioed: “Discontinue the pursuit, if it’s only for traffic.”
At 9:13 p.m., police reported the fleeing vehicle rear-ended a car whose driver was stopped on the side of the parkway at the Capital Beltway interchange. The woman inside, Brittany Burks, 27, of Amherst, N.Y., was killed. Her relatives couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday. In a statement Wednesday, Howard University Provost Anthony Wutoh said Burks was a third-year student in the College of Dentistry.
“On behalf of the entire Howard University community, I wish to express our sincere condolences to the Burks family and friends,” Wutoh wrote.
U.S. Park Police, which has jurisdiction over the crash site, identified the driver of the fleeing vehicle as Darnell Basset, 24, of Northeast Washington. He remained hospitalized under police guard Wednesday after suffering serious injuries in the crash. Police and the U.S. attorney’s office declined to discuss possible criminal charges.
The police radio recordings demonstrate the compressed time for decision-making as the event unfolded. The supervisor had minutes to learn about the earlier hit-and-run of the police car, whether the man being pursued was suspected in a more serious offense and whether the officer under his command was right to pursue.
Authorities cautioned that the radio transmissions are one part of a more sweeping investigation into the incident and circumstances that led to it. Police have said they also are interviewing witnesses, other officers and reviewing body camera video that hasn’t been made public.
The officer, who hasn’t been identified, was placed on administrative leave. D.C. police declined to comment on specifics of the investigation.
The recordings were posted on the website openmhz.com, which archives radio transmissions of police departments. Most D.C. police radio channels are encrypted so the public can’t listen, although at least one remains open. The “citywide” channel is used by officers to converse with colleagues beyond their assigned patrol area or to distribute information to a broader audience. A police spokesman confirmed the transmissions posted on the chase appear authentic.
The Monday pursuit began shortly after 9 p.m. in the Kenilworth area of Northeast Washington when a police cruiser was struck head-on by another vehicle on Quarles Street. Police said the driver of the striking vehicle then sped off. A few minutes later, an officer started to chase the vehicle, although it’s unclear if he witnessed the crash or recognized the vehicle from a description.
The publicly available radio transmission begins at 9:08 p.m. in the early stages of the brief pursuit on D.C. 295 and onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. By that time, the officer had passed U.S. 50, where the pursued vehicle lost a tire, and was approaching Prince George’s Hospital Center near Kenilworth Avenue.
It was at this point the pursuing officer turned to the citywide channel to inform the dispatcher and a supervisor, referred to as Cruiser 800, that he was involved in a chase: “Suspect just struck K-9 cruiser. He’s on 295 northbound. Can you notify Prince George’s County and U.S. Park, and advise Cruiser 800 that I’m behind that vehicle?”
He added, “I’m just keeping a close distance. I’m following from a close distance.”
His siren is audible in the background.
The supervisor broke in: “What’s the vehicle wanted for?” A dispatcher informs the supervisor of the hit-and-run on Quarles Street.
“Is this a vehicle that’s wanted only for a hit-and-run at this point?” the supervisor asked.
The officer on Quarles Street answered: “I have no idea. He just came out of nowhere and struck me.”
At 9:11 p.m., the supervisor inquired whether helicopters were available to track the vehicle.
“If this vehicle is only wanted for the traffic crash, we’re going to disregard the pursuit,” the supervisor said. “But we need to verify with [garbled name] that this vehicle wasn’t involved in something else.”
An officer with the department’s Gun Recovery Unit advised he was with the officers on Quarles Street, but the officer gave no indication the man had been targeted by the unit.
The dispatcher said it appeared the driver of the fleeing car was wanted only in relation to the crash on Quarles Street, an offense that amounted to no more than a traffic infraction.
At 9:12 p.m., the supervisor ordered the pursuit discontinued.
The officer answered: “All right, I copy.”
At 9:13 p.m., the officer called in again, “We’re going to have an overturned vehicle.”
Jennifer Jenkins and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.