I-TEAM: A deeper look into deadly police pursuits
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - After a deadly police pursuit took the life of a mother of two, the I-TEAM is digging deeper into the numbers of deadly pursuits in our area, and how the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is reviewing them.
Earlier this year, the I-TEAM uncovered new information about a deadly police chase that killed Ashley Irvin. She was an innocent bystander, driving to her parents’ house around the corner when she was hit and killed.
Every time the family hears police sirens and sees flashing lights, it gives them flashbacks.
“It brings back emotions and it makes you very angry,” said Ashley’s sister, Brittany Irvin.
It’s been almost a year since Brittany’s older sister, Ashley, a mother of two young girls, was hit and killed.
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“It’s set in for me. It still seems unreal. Sometimes I do want to pick up the phone and give her a call. I just love her, and I miss her so much,” said Brittany.
Dispatch radio traffic: “Area of Milledgeville and Tubman Home Road be advised (inaudible) it’s a 10-80 with a blue SUV.”
A 10-80 is a police chase. Back in October 2022, Richmond County deputies tried to pull over Willie Sturdivant for violating Georgia’s hands-free law, but instead, he took off in rush hour traffic.
Dispatch radio traffic: “Speeds about 90.”
Racing down Gordon Highway, he blew a red light and hit 33-year-old Ashley.
Dispatch radio traffic: “Vehicle overturned at Gordon Highway and Milledgeville.”
Dispatch radio traffic: “Be advised we’re going to have one white Impala with entrapment.”
Ashley was taken to the hospital and later passed away.
The Irvin family says more needs to be done to protect families during pursuits.
“There’s nothing being done. They are still going to do them,” said Brittany.
The I-TEAM requested the sheriff’s office pursuit policy after Irvin’s accident. It reads: “When it is necessary to conduct a pursuit, deputies must exercise due regard for the safety of all persons and the decision to pursue rests solely with the deputy. Caution will be used when approaching a populated area, high traffic areas, or rush hour periods.”
We found these standards all fall under Georgia state law.
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Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office agreed to sit down with the I-TEAM to talk about changes needed to their pursuit policy after Ashley’s death.
“This is probably one of the most stressful things that we do other than going and using our weapons,” said Clayton.
They’re specifically working on more supervisor control during pursuits. They also created a pursuit review committee that will look at how pursuits were handled during and after. It’s also responsible for updating the department’s policies.
“We need to do as much training on emergency vehicle operations and also high-speed pursuits as we’re doing with firearms,” said Clayton.
Published this week by the U.S. Department of Justice, the report suggests pursuits should only take place when an officer is aware a violent crime has been committed or when the suspect poses an imminent threat to commit another violent crime.
The call for action comes as the nation’s number of deadly police pursuits is on the rise. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis, pursuits that turned deadly increased 41% from 2001 to 2021.
During that period, 8,203 people died; 493 of those were from Georgia. Of those killed nationally, about 36% were innocent bystanders.
According to annual reports produced by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, the number of pursuits has increased over the past five years at the agency. That includes at least 1,673 pursuits last year alone.
That’s something Richmond County Deputy Jamie Champion has dealt with over the past 23 years in law enforcement.
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“We’re not out here to harm people. It’s our job to serve and protect, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to do it in a safe fashion, so we do not injure anybody. And the violator is apprehended with the least amount of force that’s necessary,” said Champion.
We went on a ride-along with Champion to see how he operates traffic stops. Champion tells us the public rarely understands what goes into pursuing a vehicle. It’s more than just simply following the suspect.
Will Rioux: “Take me through the process of what you guys look out for when you do these police pursuits.”
Jamie Champion: “Simple answer: everything. One, we have to be able to control our emotions because it can be a high-stress thing. Even seasoned veterans can get tunnel vision, and you have to fight against that because if you just focus on the violator, you’re not going to see cars coming from the side or you’re not going to see all the other distractions that could cause an accident or loss of life.”
During the ride, Champion took us through the process of what he was looking at as if he were in a chase with the car he was about to pull over.
THE NATIONAL NUMBERS:
“You’re focusing on this truck and make sure he’s not coming over on you. OK, so this car isn’t coming out in this lane, hit here, which is going to take out the U-Haul or another vehicle. You have to anticipate all the possibilities of what they’re going to do,” he said.
Champion calls these pursuits a necessary evil, but deputies do what they can to ensure everyone makes it home safely.
“It takes a toll on your body from the beginning to the end. Your heart rate increases. You have to keep to yourself, keep yourself calm. We have to be able to maintain our self-control during the chase,” said Champion.
As for the Irvin family, they’re in their own chase. A chase to get justice for Ashley and bring more awareness to what they say is a growing issue.
Instead of picking up the phone to call her big sister, Brittany takes a trip down the road to visit her. Brittany says if any change comes from her sister’s death, that’s a step in the right direction.
The Irvin family is still fighting for justice through the court system.
Sturdivant, 30, was wanted in several states when he drove off from deputies. He’s being charged with homicide by vehicle and several other offenses.
Another investigation by the I-TEAM ...
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