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Probe clears cops in chase

March 26, 2004|BY GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - An internal review by the Washington County Sheriff's Office of a chase last week that resulted in a fatal crash determined that no department policies were violated and no department personnel would be disciplined in connection with the chase, Capt. Douglas Mullendore said Thursday.

Russell Nelson Freeman Jr., 42, of Hagerstown, died March 18 when the Pontiac Sunfire he was driving struck a tree along U.S. 40 just over the Frederick County line.

Freeman was wanted on two warrants lodged days before in Washington County District Court. He was charged in the warrants with domestic- and theft-related crimes.

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The chase began at the intersection of White Hall and Beaver Creek Church roads where Deputy 1st Class David Norford spotted the vehicle Freeman was believed to be driving. When Norford attempted to pull over the car, it sped off.

Sheriff's Department supervisors and Sheriff Charles Mades determined earlier this week that "there was no reason to call off the chase," Mullendore said.

Mullendore said he, Lt. Randy Wilkinson and Mades signed off on the review that cleared all department personnel, including the two primary deputies involved in the chase, Norford and Deputy 1st Class Mark Keys.

Mullendore said the review considered the specific circumstances of the case. Mullendore said the chase was justified for several reasons, including that Freeman was charged with auto theft and there was little traffic in the area.

Had Freeman been wanted on less serious offenses, such as traffic charges, the chase likely would have been called off at the Frederick County line, Mullendore said.

Mullendore said Freeman's crash was "being handled (by state police) basically as an accident as a result of the chase."

"There's a lot of decision-making that goes into a vehicle pursuit. We do not take those lightly," Mullendore said. "We are putting our deputies, our suspects, and other citizens at risk when we do that."

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