On one thing, both sides agree. In the wee hours of March 23, 2012, a stolen 2000 Toyota Echo driven by Reynard Osman, 16, was heading south on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase Circle with three other passengers inside, when it went out of control and was involved in a fiery crash. Osman, along with the two backseat passengers, died. Reeco Richardson, Osman’s front seat passenger, was the lone survivor.
Both sides also acknowledge that following the incident, Montgomery County police charged Richardson, who has turned 18 since the incident, with four counts related to car-theft, including unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. Jury selection was scheduled to begin Oct. 3 in the case.
From there, the story changes, depending on who is telling it.
According to Montgomery County police, a police officer spotted the vehicle and ran a customary license plate check. The check showed that the car had been reported stolen. When the officer attempted to pull the vehicle over, the driver failed to stop and a chase ensued, Osman lost control, the car slammed into a tree and erupted in flames. Officers were able to pull Richardson and Osman from the front, but could not rescue the back seat passengers due to the flames. The backseat passengers, cousins Demetrius Nelson, 16, and Kyree Nelson, 14, were pronounced dead at the scene. Richardson and Osman were transported to area hospitals. Osman later died. The youths were D.C. residents, authorities said.
Richardson claimed through his attorney that the crash occurred after police rammed the car during the chase. He filed a $10 million lawsuit against them in April, claiming among other things, that police committed battery against him when they rammed the car. Supporters said the charges were filed by Montgomery County a few days after he filed his lawsuit in late April.
Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said the charges were typical in a stolen car case. Officials denied that the charges were motivated by Richardson’s lawsuit.
“We are prosecuting this auto theft case in a way consistent with our normal procedures,” Korionoff said. “Some cases go to trial, others plead out. Each case has its own set of facts and we proceed based on the merits of the case.”
Attorneys for Richardson admit that the young men were riding in the stolen car when Osman stopped at a red light. The young men noticed five more police vehicles at the intersection. When the light turned green, Osman accelerated up to 100 mph and the police followed at the same pace. At Chevy Chase Circle, they said, Osman slowed to 50 mph, slid into a curb and came to a stop. The police, still traveling at a high rate of speed, rammed the Echo, the attorney said.
Said Richardson attorney Donald Huskey: “Reeco maintains that the car they were riding in was hit.”
Captain Paul Starks, the Montgomery police spokesman, said “there were some damages to at least two cars that responded to the scene, but there was no reported contact between the stolen vehicle and the police cars.” A chase that is alleged to be the one in which the young men were killed has been posted on Youtube.
Huskey questioned why police chose to initiate a high-speed chase for a property crime. “All they had to do was back off and catch them on a side street,” he said.
But some law enforcement officials said Montgomery police did nothing wrong in checking the vehicle.
“It’s general procedure to check for stolen tags on a vehicle and attempt to pull the car over,” said Ron Hampton, former executive director of the National Black Police Association. “Typically an officer would phone it in and request back-up.”
He does however question the need for a high-speed pursuit, particularly in a busy, metropolitan area.
“Very few departments engage in chases; most officers have to get permission from a supervisor to pursue,” said Hampton. “In most incidents, instead of engaging in a chase where you could endanger several officers and innocent bystanders, an officer would get a warrant and make a later arrest.”
Richardson’s trial was expected to last through Oct. 5.