CAUGHT ON CAMERA: East Cleveland chases end in crashes, but officers don’t stop to help

Published: May. 25, 2023 at 4:43 PM EDT|Updated: May. 25, 2023 at 9:18 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - After a brief police pursuit ended in a bad crash in Cleveland back in March, East Cleveland Police Commander Larry McDonald, the only officer involved in the chase, left the scene without stopping to check on the driver.

In fact, McDonald’s body camera footage from the incident shows he laughed after the crash and said, “I knew he was going to do that,” before cranking up his stereo and driving his patrol car to nearby bar.

The 46-year-old veteran officer’s body camera was still recording as he walked into the back door of the Sportsman Ultra Lounge, located at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Ivanhoe Road, and started talking to some women who later joined him outside in his cruiser

About 20 minutes after the pursuit, McDonald, known throughout the community by the nickname ‘Pac-Man,’ was in the middle of a sexually explicit conversation with the women when another officer, Sgt. Anthony Holmes, started questioning him about the incident over the phone:

Holmes: “You wasn’t behind no car on Ivanhoe, was you?”

McDonald: “Yeah, why? What happened?”

Holmes: “Uh, they crashed at St. Clair.”

McDonald: “I wasn’t behind, I turned around!”

Holmes: “Ah, ok. A passerby said that the car almost ran them off the road, watched them crash, and then turned around. Cleveland called over here.”

McDonald: “No, I wasn’t in pursuit of that car.”

According to records from the Cleveland Division of Police, a woman called to report a white Jeep Cherokee was being chased down Ivanhoe Road by an East Cleveland police officer when the driver crashed into an RTA bus shelter at the intersection known as ‘Five Points,’ where Ivanhoe meets East 152nd Street and St. Clair Avenue.

The 58-year-old woman told Cleveland Police she was almost run off the road during the pursuit, and that the East Cleveland officer appeared stop and then leave right after the crash.

Cleveland Police dispatchers contacted the East Cleveland Police Department, who denied having any involvement.

“East Cleveland is saying that it wasn’t them, all of their officers are on base,” a female dispatcher relayed to Cleveland officers in an audio recording obtained by 19 Investigates.

Cleveland officers responded to the scene and discovered the RTA bus shelter was destroyed, along with a fire hydrant and a crosswalk sign.

The 42-year-old driver of the Jeep was not injured and refused EMS, police said.

When Cleveland Police ran the man’s name through a law enforcement database at the crash scene, they discovered he a had a possible active homicide warrant with East Cleveland Police.

Court records show he pleaded guilty to attempted murder in 2009.

At the exact same time Cleveland Police were working to verify the homicide warrant, video shows Commander McDonald was still sitting in his patrol car outside of the bar.

His body camera recorded him making a call on his iPhone to a contact labeled “ECPD Holmes.”

Holmes: “Yeah?”

McDonald: “Yeah, now what’d they say?”

Holmes: “They said that an East Cleveland cop chased him down the street, almost ran them off the road, and watched the car crash and then turned around.”

McDonald: “And they crashed on where?”

Holmes: “Ivanhoe and St. Clair. It was a passerby that said all that. But it was a car crashed into a bus stop at Ivanhoe and St. Clair.”

McDonald: “No, I wouldn’t have seen that. I stopped... let me get this street because I’m right here still, let me get this street where I turned around at.”

Holmes: “You’re probably about Stevenson or whatever. You’re good, all of our units is in the station.”

McDonald: (laughing) “Woooo, these m***********s! So he said, he told the police that he was getting chased by the East Cleveland Police?”

Holmes: “A passerby said that a car was getting chased by the police. The passerby is gone.”

McDonald: (driving) “I turned around, let me get this exact street... right about... Holiday. Then I came down and turned around. I didn’t do the ‘Wiggins.’”

Holmes: “No, we covered. I’m not worried about it. That passerby is gone, they didn’t get any information. They just said that to Cleveland. So we’re good.”

McDonald: “Kinda made me wanna go down there now.”

Holmes: “Don’t go down there. You ain’t had nothing to do with it.”

Both McDonald and Holmes are now facing criminal charges in connection with the March 12 incident.

On Tuesday, a Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted them on one count each of tampering with evidence, telecommunications fraud, obstructing official business, and dereliction of duty.

McDonald was also indicted on one count of failure to stop after an accident, while Holmes faces an additional charge for obstructing justice. They are scheduled to be arraigned on June 8.

19 Investigates found McDonald is not the first East Cleveland police officer to be accused of failing to stop after witnessing an accident.

Our investigative team uncovered a similar incident that occurred last year involving Officer Ravon Wiggins.

Just after midnight on Oct. 10, 2022, Wiggins began pursuing a White Kia SUV after he said he saw the vehicle run a red light and then got an alert that the Kia was reported stolen.

The chase continued across city limits into Cleveland, where speeds reached over 70 mph, according to police records.

One officer decided to terminate the pursuit around Superior Avenue and Ansel Road “due to unsafe speeds and traffic conditions,” but Wiggins continued to follow the speeding Kia down Superior until the driver crashed near East 79th Street.

“Looking down the street, I can see some lights flashing, “ Wiggins said over his police radio. “I believe that vehicle may have crashed. I’m going to go check.”

Another voice came over the radio and said, “If you’re not in pursuit of that vehicle, terminate and return back to the city.”

Surveillance video obtained by 19 Investigates show Wiggins turned his emergency lights off right after the person driving the Kia lost control, crossed the double yellow lines, and crashed into a light pole.

Three people inside the vehicle, including the driver, were seriously injured.

Wiggins can been seen on video approaching the intersection of East 79th Street and Superior Avenue, but instead of stopping to help, the officer made a U-turn and drove away.

According to Chief Brian Gerhard, the 26-year-old officer was just doing what his then-patrol commander, Larry McDonald, had told him to do.

In his investigative report regarding the pursuit, Wiggins wrote, “I began to see street lights start flashing further west on Superior Ave. and in believing the vehicle may have crashed and caused injuries, I advised dispatch and continued without my emergency lights and sirens activated. I was ordered to stand down as I approached E. 82nd St. I then made a U-turn and returned to the city. From the point I turned around, I did not observe any vehicles or persons in distress.”

In October, East Cleveland Police Commander Dominique King told 19 Investigates the department was conducting an internal review of Wiggins’ actions, including his failure to activate his body worn camera during the pursuit.

Patrolman Wiggins followed directive when he turned around but did not take the initiative to follow policy & procedure,” an internal affairs panel noted during a hearing on Nov. 9, 2022.

The allegations of misconduct were not sustained, however, and the officer was not disciplined for leaving the crash scene without stopping. Records show Wiggins received a one day suspension for violating the department’s body camera policy. He has not been charged with any crimes.

While Wiggins did report the possibility of a crash with injuries on Oct. 10, records show an East Cleveland police dispatcher did not include any of that information in the dispatch log during the pursuit. The only mention of the crash in the dispatch log was entered nearly 15 minutes later by a different dispatcher who noted Cleveland Police called to advice them of the crash and requested to speak with the officer in charge.

Cleveland Police also spoke with that same dispatcher right after the pursuit involving McDonald on March 12. According to records, the East Cleveland dispatcher told Cleveland Police that “they were not chasing” and that “it wasn’t any of their officers” because “they are all at base.”

In addition to the East Cleveland police dispatcher, 19 Investigates discovered Sgt. Holmes also has a connection to both pursuits.

Officer Wiggins’ investigative report regarding the Oct. 10 incident lists Holmes as his “supervisor.” The same document also states Holmes is the one who approved the officer’s report.

On top of the charges related to the March 12 pursuit, Holmes was also indicted this week in connection with a separate incident that occurred in October 2021.

According the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, East Cleveland officers Ian McInnes, 39, and Tristan Homan, 25, chased a 16-year-old driver into Cleveland. After the pursuit ended, the teen sat down and placed his hands in the air. Investigators say McInnes then ran up to the 16-year-old and kicked him in the groin.

McInnes and Homan were indicted in March. On Tuesday, Holmes was charged with tampering with records, telecommunications fraud, dereliction of duty, and assault in connection with the Oct. 2021 pursuit.

Holmes was placed on unpaid administrative leave on Wednesday, according to the department.

Chief Gerhard said McDonald submitted a resignation letter on Tuesday afternoon, about an hour before his indictment was announced by prosecutors.

“Had he not resigned, he faced termination of employment,” Gerhard wrote in an email.

The timing of Cuyahoga County’s indictment was “coincidental,” according to the chief, who said the department concluded an internal investigation into McDonald on May 22.

McDonald was facing departmental charges for violating East Cleveland’s police rules, policies and procedures.

Gerhard said all of the departmental charges against McDonald were sustained, and that the internal investigation into the now-former commander’s conduct was separate from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s investigation.

He did not specify what rules and polices McDonald had violated or when the violations took place.

Within the last year, 18 current or former East Cleveland police officers have been indicted for various crimes, including some charged with stealing from people while on duty, felonious assault, and accepting bribes.

One of the 18 officers facing criminal charges is former East Cleveland Police Chief Scott Gardner. He is accused of financial crimes and is scheduled back in court on June 1.

The FBI has set up a hotline to collect information regarding potential public corruption and civil rights violations committed by the East Cleveland Police Department.

Anyone who has any information about potentially criminal matters involving the East Cleveland Police Department is asked to call the FBI hotline at 216-583-5343 and leave your name, phone number, and a brief description of the alleged criminal activities.