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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2011

2 officers cleared in fatal chase

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An image of police chasing Brian Lipp from a Toledo police officer's dashboard camera. An image of police chasing Brian Lipp from a Toledo police officer's dashboard camera.
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The two Toledo police officers who earlier this month crashed into a motorist -- killing him -- while chasing a suspect the wrong way on I-75, have been cleared of wrongdoing in the pursuit.

Officers involved in a shooting later that day that ended in the death of the suspect, Brian Lipp, are still under administrative review by the city, however, and a Toledo sergeant is undergoing retraining for her involvement in the Labor Day weekend incident.

Citizen Larry Collins, 64, of 2506 Shoreland Ave., in Washington Township, was killed in a Sept. 3 head-on crash with a Toledo police cruiser driven by officer David O'Brien, that had been chasing Brian Everett Lipp when he drove the wrong way onto I-75. Officer James Mawer was the passenger in the cruiser.

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said the two officers did not violate any departmental policy during the chase. An internal investigation found they were justified in pursuing their suspect. The two officers were seriously hurt and taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center with nonlife threatening injuries. Officer Mawer is still off duty because of his injuries while Officer O'Brien has been on light duty work since Sept. 19.

Brian Lipp. Brian Lipp.
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Lipp was ultimately shot and killed that day by three Toledo police officers, three Ohio Highway Patrol troopers, and a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent assigned to the metro drug task force. They all fired an estimated 40 to 50 rounds at Lipp with sidearms and shotguns. Lipp's weapon turned out to be a pellet gun.

The three Toledo Police officers involved in the shooting -- William Berk III, Brent Scoble, and Brian Lewandowski -- returned to duty after the shooting and were cleared on Sept. 16 by a Lucas County Grand Jury, which decided the officers responded correctly, and recommended that no criminal charges be brought.

The three troopers involved in the shooting were Sgt. Scott Wyckhouse, Trooper Ryan Stewart, and Trooper Al Romero. All three returned to full duty on Sept. 19. Lt. Anne Ralston, the patrol's public affairs commander, said the patrol is still conducting its own internal investigation.

Lipp's crash and the shooting was the end of a three-hours long set of incidents that could be fodder for a Hollywood movie. He was wanted by authorities as a suspect in a home invasion and the robberies of two Toledo pharmacies.

Police picked up his trail the Saturday of Labor Day weekend when they received a phone tip of a suspicious person fitting the description of Lipp walking on Detroit Avenue near East Alexis Road. Police Sgt. Karen Martensen, patroling nearby, responded. Lipp pulled a gun on her, she took cover behind her car, and he took off running, the chief said.

The officer got back in her car, chased Lipp around a building, and spotted him carjacking a gray 2010 Honda Civic from a man fueling his vehicle at the Barney's Convenience Mart gas station at North Detroit and Alexis Road.

Chief Navarre yesterday said Sergeant Martensen, who did not fire her weapon at Lipp, was put on administrative review after the incident and will have to undergo retraining beginning today.

"Due to the fact that Sergeant Martensen encountered the suspect on two occasions -- granted it was only a minute apart -- the suspect got away and I felt those facts warranted an administrative review of her actions," Chief Navarre said. "She wasn't being accused of any wrongdoing. It was an administrative review… at the conclusion of that I determined that disciplinary action was not being initiated."

Her retraining will include "a lot of scenario types, similar to the one she faced that day," the chief said.

Chief Navarre said the Toledo Police Department is also still conducting an administrative review of the shooting. He noted that although the grand jury considered possible criminal violations, the police department was still looking into whether the officers adhered to department policy and procedure.

One of the officers in the shooting was involved in a fatal pursuit 16 years ago. In 1995, Officer Lewandowski was driving a police vehicle in pursuit of a suspect and collided with a car at Douglas Road and Berdan Avenue, killing a 9-year-old girl. Three years later, Toledo City Council agreed to a $600,000 settlement with the parents of the girl, Shannon Incorvaia. The city also conceded that Officer Lewandowski was violating the department's pursuit policy when he sped through a red light and slammed into the car.

A review of Officer Lewandowski's personnel file showed no mention of that fatal 1995 crash.

"That is because of our retention schedule," Chief Navarre explained. "If you look at our contract, we have a retention schedule where we only keep those files -- major investigations -- for five years. So any major suspensions, dismissals, demotions are kept for five years."

After that, the records are destroyed, he said.

The chief said the retention schedule was negotiated in the patrolmen's union contract in response to a 1990 investigation by The Blade of the department's internal affairs documents.

The two officers in the Sept. 3 head-on crash were involved in another high-profile case.

Officer Mawer, who has been with the department since 1984, was among Toledo Police officers who in 2009 shot and killed 29-year-old Pyon Simmons after he had stabbed his mother inside their home. Officer O'Brien, who has been with the department since 1985, suffered a large gash to his head that day at the hands of Simmons, who, after being tasered, then seriously injured two police officers by hitting them with metal pipes hewas carrying.

Video released

After the Toledo fatal crash that killed Mr. Collins, Lipp drove the stolen car to Wood County, carjacked another car, and robbed another drugstore for narcotics.

Troopers with the Ohio Highway Patrol soon after chased him northbound on I-75.

Video from the high speed pursuit released this week by the patrol shows a daring dash by the suspect up the highway.

The 18-minute video, which concludes with officers shooting and killing Lipp, starts with the suspect speeding north on the highway through Wood County.

Lipp appears to begin taking the exit for the Ohio Turnpike but remains on I-75 where he continues to swerve wildly around traffic and drives on the shoulder several times. After reaching the Toledo city limits, Lipp briefly pulls away from the trooper chasing him. The trooper's engine can be heard racing as he pushes the accelerator to catch up to the speeding suspect. Lipp is seen in the video finally exiting the highway at Bancroft Street, where he crashes and overturns the stolen vehicle.

Other police vehicles quickly pull up and officers can be heard yelling at Lipp to get down on the ground and to put his hands up. "Put your hands up! Put your hands up!" an officer can be heard yelling.

The suspect remains in the spot with authorities pointing their weapons on him for nearly eight minutes. He was ordered to "put the gun down" before being shot and killed after raising the weapon.

Chief Navarre yesterday said the Toledo dashboard camera videos would not be released until their investigation was complete.

"We will not release any video until the firearms review board is complete because it is all relevant, even though there were separate pursuits, they are related," Chief Navarre said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

Link: Footage of the chase from a Toledo police cruiser's dashboard cam.



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