Oakland police pursuit policy examined in wake of 2 bystander deaths

The Oakland Police Department's pursuit policies are being scrutinized after a second innocent victim was killed in a chase in less than four months.

On Tuesday, a memorial sat under the BART tracks at 69th Avenue and San Leandro Street in East Oakland for Agustin Coyotl, who was driving to work when a wanted suspect fleeing police crashed into his pickup truck. 

After the crash, his Toyota Tacoma's horn blared from the weight of his body on the steering wheel.

In June, Lolomanaia Soakai was killed at 54th Avenue and International Boulevard by a fleeing suspect.  Two officers are under investigation for allegedly chasing the driver without permission and leaving the scene after the wreck.

The deaths are raising questions about the department's pursuit policy, which states, "Pursuits may only be initiated when there is reasonable suspicion to believe the fleeing individual committed a violent forcible crime and/or a crime involving the use of a firearm, or probable cause that the individual is in possession of a firearm."

KTVU asked Chief LeRonne Armstrong why Monday's chase was authorized. He said the suspect had brandished a gun in a road-rage incident in the same car three days earlier. That suspect, Jonathan Hernandez, 23, was formally charged Friday by prosecutors with a litany of felonies for both incidents, including vehicular manslaughter, evading police and being a felon with a gun.

"Our policy does allow officers to pursue a vehicle that is involved in a violent felony or has a firearm involved," Armstrong said.

The department is investigating whether the officers updated dispatch with the suspect's speed, traffic conditions and other risk factors, and whether at any point the chase should have been called off.'

"Pursuits are getting too many, too dangerous," said Jim Chanin, an attorney who monitors Oakland police reform efforts. "You have to weigh that with the cost of a human life."

Chanin said the city will likely not be liable in Coyotl's death because it was a suspect's car - not a police cruiser - that hit the victim's truck.

"The city is very likely immune, which means not only did this guy die, which is horrible, but his family probably has no legal recourse," he said.