FOX19 INVESTIGATES: Dangerous police chases in the Tri-State

Dash cam footage after the chase
Dash cam footage after the chase
Joy Westfall
Joy Westfall

MIAMI TOWNSHIP, OHIO (FOX19) – A police chase started by Goshen Township officers that ended in Miami Township last month and hurt five innocent bystanders had been forbidden by Goshen's chief and violated the department's pursuit policy, according to documents obtained by FOX19.

In addition, Goshen Township Police records show the suspected drug dealer they were chasing had been lured here by officers. The documents FOX19 obtained show that officers had their confidential informant convince a suspected heroin dealer in Dayton that he would get more money if he drove down here to personally deliver the drugs.

Goshen Police Chief Ray Snyder is not commenting.

However, in his written description of what happened, Chief Snyder said he told those in charge of the operation "that there would be no pursuits."

Yet it wasn't long after that, according to the chief's account, that he heard sirens and a lot of chatter on his portable radio.

"I turned up the volume on the radio and learned that our personnel were engaging the suspect in a car chase," Chief Snyder wrote in a report about two weeks later. "I then attempted to radio Sgt. Robinson on the radio to find out why we were engaged in a pursuit but got a busy signal when I tried to key up; others were using the radio frequency at the time which is why I got the busy signal."

Chief Snyder also wrote that before the operation began, he had told those in charge that a police chase in this case would violate the department's pursuit policy.

Yet if any of the bystanders who were hurt should want to sue Goshen Township Police, they won't get very far, according to FOX19 legal analyst Don Moore. In Ohio, police officers have a large degree of immunity in such cases.

"They're turning a blind eye away and refusing to acknowledge that the police have any contribution as a cause to injury, caused by people they're chasing," said Moore.

At his law firm in Anderson Township, Moore represents two sisters who lost their mom in August 2012 during a police chase.

"A speeding vehicle is considered deadly force," Moore said. "And indeed, in this case, that's exactly what it was."

Union Township Police, who did not respond to FOX19's interview request, had been chasing two men in a Penske rental truck. There was a report the men had tried to steal a John Deere "Gator." Officers chased the men through heavy traffic and, dispatcher recordings indicate, may have recognized how dangerous this was at one point and backed-off.

But then you hear a sergeant on the recording say, "Have we discontinued the pursuit or are we back at it now?"

You can hear sirens in the background, which led the sergeant to believe the chase was back on.

Moments later an officer radios, "They just Code 2'd. We've got a crash."

The men had rammed into a car with Betty Hines and her best friend inside. The Penske truck landed on top of them. Both died at the scene.

"What material item is really worth the life of your mom or your spouse or your daughter, your sister?" asked Hines's daughter Joy Westfall. "I mean, is there any material item that is worth the death of a person (not to mention) the death of two people, which is what occurred that evening?"

Both women were driving back from church when their car was crushed. Westfall would like to hold the officers involved in the chase at least partially responsible in civil court. However, with Ohio's law the way it is, the case is unlikely to ever get before a jury. A judge would likely throw it out beforehand.

"I don't have my mom," Westfall said, tearing-up. "I can't go to an airport and not think of her. When I'm having a stressful day, I can't pick-up the phone and call her."

She and Moore hope to convince Ohio legislators to change the law. Moore argues that officers should be held accountable when they violate their department's own pursuit policy. For instance, the Cincinnati Police Department's policy is not to engage in a high-speed pursuit when bystanders could be hurt unless the suspect has committed a crime like murder.

"And if you're going to be arresting dangerous people in public places with the ability to use deadly force…you have to be a professional," Moore said. "And so you have to follow the rules."

Neither Goshen Township Police nor Union Township Police would talk to FOX19 to give their side of the story.