THE ERIC CRAWFORD CASE FILE

Sometimes, what it takes to deal with Oakland government is patience. Four months after I asked them for it, Oakland City officials finally released some information about the UíKendra Johnson accident. They didnít release much.

I had asked for the "factual circumstances surrounding the arrest" of Eric Crawford, the man who has been accused of driving the car that killed the 22 year-old Johnson last February. In a July 11th letter to me, Supervising Deputy City Attorney Mark Morodomi wrote that Crawford was "observed spinning donuts at 61st Avenue and Foothill Boulevard (in his car)Öthen left the scene at a high rate of speed" and collided with the car in which Johnson was a passenger. Morodomi wrote the officers who observed Crawford spinning donuts were Ingo Mayer and DíVour Thurston. Interestingly, Morodomi did not identify the officers who actually arrested Crawford. In addition, Morodomi said nothing about the high-speed police chase which witnesses say preceded the accident. Thatís why I wanted to look in the case file myself, to see if there was any evidence that either backed up or refuted the witnessesí claims. And, as it turned out, maybe thatís why City officials didnít want me to get a look.

Last week, I got the chance to look in the Crawford case file without the help of either the City Attorneyís office or the Oakland Police Department. I found a couple of interesting things.

But the most interesting thing was what I didnít find. Nowhere in the case file was there an incident report from either Mayer or Thurston, the officers who the City Attorneyís office said observed Eric Crawford spinning donuts in his car.

Instead, the file showed that on the day of the accident, Mayer and Thurston were each interviewed separately by OPD Homicide Division Sergeant Jeffrey Ferguson, on tape, each officer with his attorney present. Before they were interviewed, Ferguson advised both officers of their rights. The lawyer representing both Mayer and Thurston was Rochne Lucia, whose firm often represents police officers charged with crimes. As arresting officers in a traffic accident reporting the accident to their superiors, why would Mayer and Thurston feel they needed to be represented by an attorney?

Transcripts of the two taped interviews do not appear in the case file, only Sergeant Fergusonís brief interview notes.

According to the notes, Mayer and Thurston both observed Crawford doing donuts on Foothill Boulevard, followed him to the crash scene, and arrested him after the crash. The officers said that when Crawford took off southbound on 61st they followed him in their car, with Mayer driving. The officers estimated that Crawford was driving somewhere between 40 and 60 miles per hour, and said that he was one to two blocks ahead of the patrol car. No estimate of their own speed is in Fergusonís notes. The notes on Mayerís interview said that there was "no radio transmission, not close enough." Presumably, that probably meant that Mayer and Thurston did not call in the chase to the OPD dispatcher. In the notes on Thurstonís interview, he says that when the officers chased after Crawford, they drove with "lights on through intersection."

The interview notes also indicate that Mayer, the driver of the police vehicle, was a rookie. He had been on the job no more than two weeks. Thurston, his partner, was a three year veteran.

There are discrepancies between facts reported in the Mayer/Thurston interviews and statements I heard from other witnesses, who said that the officers were closer than a block behind Crawford, that the chase lasted for several more blocks than the officers reported, and that the officers never turned on their flashing lights. Those witnesses were never interviewed by OPD.

But much is clear, even with the discrepancies.

Officers Ingo Mayer and DíVour Thurston were interviewed by Sergeant Ferguson on the same day UíKendra Johnson died. So from the very beginning, police officials knew that a high-speed police chase down residential streets preceded the auto accident. OPD officials have never publicly admitted that fact. OPD Information Officer George Philips, in fact, has flatly denied that there was a police chase.

"Cover up" is an overused term. But what other term would you use to describe this?

And how much did that high-speed police chase contribute to the death of UíKendra Johnson?


Originally Published July 31, 2002 in URBANVIEW Newspaper, Oakland, CA