DETROIT (WXYZ) — On Jan. 3, 2020, Detroit Police squad car 8-36 made the scene of a terrible crash on the city’s west side.
The driver, who officers later learned was drunk, blew through a red light and collided with an SUV. Four people were badly injured, including the drunk driver Lonell Dixon.
His passenger, 21-year-old Miracle Jamerson, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It’s horrible. It’s horrible to have to live through this,” her mother Paula Gribble said through tears. “I wouldn’t wish this on somebody I hated.”
No one was more responsible for the devastation that night than Dixon, who was not only drunk but driving on a suspended license.
But Detroit Police officers played a role in what happened that night, too, with conduct that investigators said was "unethical" and amounted to a coverup.
Two years and two months since Jamerson's death, her family says Detroit Police never shared the role their officers' played in the crash. They only learned the details after being contacted by 7 Action News.
“I asked these questions for years and no one would come forward with this information,” said Jamerson’s sister, Domonique Johnson. “You’re the only person who answered our question, who came with information.”
'Did not have probable cause'
In the squad car that night were officer Xhesian Zaimi, the driver, and officer Christopher Bush, the front passenger. In the back was another officer plus a ride-along, Officer Zaimi’s cousin.
Their squad car is what’s called semi-marked: a dark vehicle with lights and sirens that are not outwardly visible, and with “Detroit Police” in dark lettering that’s more difficult to see in the dark.
At 9:30 PM, the officers were headed west on 8 Mile near Telegraph when they saw a blue Saturn Aura heading in the opposite direction. From the police car's dashcam video, it’s unclear why the Saturn got the officers’ attention, but the squad car does a U-turn and begins to follow.
A report written the next day claimed the car was speeding, but that’s not clear from the video and a sergeant later determined the officers “did not have probable cause” to stop the Saturn in the first place.
But they followed it anyway, according to the dashcam video, and instead of turning on their overhead lights and sirens, the officers turned on their spotlight. Police would later write that it was to illuminate the license plate, but the dashcam shows that before the spotlight was turned on, the license plate was already lit and visible.
Seconds later, the Saturn is seen taking off. It narrowly misses an oncoming vehicle, then almost hits a tree. But still, the officers don’t turn on their lights and sirens, as policy dictates, even though they’re now pursuing the Saturn and reaching speeds of 65 mph.
Dennis Kenney, a professor of law enforcement at John Jay College in New York who’s studied police chases across the country, reviewed video of this pursuit for 7 Action News.
“What are the reasons that officers don’t turn on lights and sirens?” asked 7 Investigator Ross Jones.
“In a pursuit situation, there is no reasonable reason,” Kenney said. “Pursuits are extremely dangerous. There are very few outcomes that can happen when a pursuit occurs and most of them are bad. The whole point of the lights and siren is to warn everyone so they can protect themselves, get out of the way.”
But no one the road that night was given warning by police. One possible reason, the investigation found, was that officers knew that turning on their lights and sirens would start recording the chase.
What Zaimi and Bush didn’t realize, according to investigators, is that it already was recording.
Watch the dashcam video below
“It means that they knew they were conducting an improper pursuit and were trying to conceal that fact,” Kenney said.
The chase spilled out onto a busy 7 Mile Road as the Saturn approached Telegraph. Even still, Zaimi and Bush kept the lights and sirens off, giving no warning to other drivers of a chase, including the GMC Yukon crossing Telegraph. Its driver didn’t have a chance to miss Lonell Dixon when his Saturn blew through the red light.
The SUV flipped, and the husband and wife inside were badly injured. They were sent to the hospital along with two others. Miracle Jamerson was pronounced dead on the scene.
Only after the crash, with smoke pouring out of the badly damaged Saturn, did officers finally turn on their lights and sirens.
David Robinson was a Detroit police officer for 13 years and today is an attorney who specializes in police misconduct. He reviewed the internal DPD force investigation into the chase, as well as the dashcam video.
“They knew they were wrong. They knew they were in violation of department policy,” he said, adding later: “Indicative of an absolute coverup.”
The crash knocked out power to the area and within minutes, EMS arrived on the scene along with other officers.
Detroit police policy said Zaimi and Bush should have already notified their superiors that the crash stemmed from their chase, but according to a sergeant’s investigation, they didn’t.
In fact, hours would go by before investigators even learned there had been a chase at all, and only after reviewing the dashcam video that Zaimi and Bush didn’t believe was recording.
After the crash, officers were seen turning off their body cameras, too — a violation of department policy — and they didn’t disclose that Zaimi’s cousin was in the back seat during the whole chase.
“It doesn’t raise red flags, it waves them rather aggressively,” said Kenney. “Violation of department policy on, I’m sure, several factors.”
History of Controversy
For Officer Zaimi, it was only the latest controversy in a short three-year career at DPD.
He’d already been cited for failing to report a traffic crash involving two prisoners and four times for failing turn or keep on his body camera.
Three of the cases were dismissed and, in a fourth, Zaimi was ordered "informal counseling" that records show he never received.
Just two months prior to the chase, a Wayne County judge ruled he’d conducted an illegal search of a man on private property.
In the same case, another judge called Zaimi’s testimony “ugly,” “not believable” and “not credible at all.”
“To me, it’s indicative of a supervision problem at that precinct,” said attorney David Robinson. “They are allowing it; they’re empowering him to go out and commit further violations.”
An investigation into the chase and crash concluded the officers were “attempting to conceal the totality of the circumstances behind the fatal crash” and that “none…could easy be considered credible.”
Had they simply followed policy and turned on their lights and sirens, a sergeant wrote,“…the outcome of this incident may have transpired differently.”
Reached on his cell phone, Officer Xhesian Zaimi hung up when a reporter told him he was looking into the Jan. 3 crash.
Discipline has been pending while Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy considered charges against Officer Zaimi. In January, she denied a warrant request.
Officer Christopher Bush’s union did not respond to a request for comment.
Miracle Jamerson’s family never knew of DPD’s role in the pursuit and hadn’t seen the dashcam video either until meeting with Channel 7, when her sister Domonique requested to view it.
What haunts her the most was seeing just how close Miracle was to making it home that night: only about a block away when police started to follow.
“They rode past the house,” she said. “My sister was coming home!”
Detroit Police declined an interview for this story but released this statement.
The DPD's investigation of the motor vehicle crash on January (3), 2020, which included an independent review by the Wayne County Prosecutors Office, remains pending and is nearing completion. Based upon the findings of that investigation, the Department will take appropriate disciplinary action, if warranted. DPD continues its efforts to flag for high-risk behavior."
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.