Paul Fell

The death of a convicted felon in a high-speed chase with a Nebraska State Patrol Trooper has triggered what Governor Pete Ricketts calls an agency-wide review of the patrol. The review will be led by the Governor’s Chief Human Resources Officer Jason Jackson.

In a news release, Ricketts said the review will seek to examine the totality of the workforce climate and make recommendations for continuous improvement. That sounds a lot like efforts to determine the climate of the Nebraska Department of Corrections – and we all know how well that has been working out.

That department remains plagued by a shortage of staff and violent incidents, ranging from assaults by prisoners against staff to inmate deaths at the hands of other inmates.

State Patrol Col. Brad Rice said the Patrol has a “proud 80-year tradition of serving the state, and throughout those 80 years we’ve always been looking for ways to better serve.” He called the Governor’s initiative “another important step to uphold that tradition, and to ensure that we achieve our goal of protecting public safety.”

There’s that public safety hand again. What about the public safety of Antoine LaDeaux who died in a violent crash last October when he ran a stop sign and tried to outrun a trooper north of Gordon. His car crashed into a ditch and ejected him after a trooper executed a “tactical vehicle intervention” which involves spinning the fleeing vehicle by bumping the rear bumper or fender with the pursuing cruiser.

A Sheridan County grand jury investigated the incident and determined there was no wrongdoing on the part of the Patrol. The TVI procedure is seldom used and only in cases where it can be safely executed. The trooper

involved had the necessary approval from his superiors to use the procedure and the event was well documented with a dash cam and transcripts of radio transmissions.

Things got hinky when the trooper’s superiors changed the narrative and said the accident wasn’t caused by the trooper’s actions, but by the driver of the fleeing vehicle who turned his car into the cruiser. Why change the story that was otherwise well documented?

Sounds like a classic case of CYA. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s likely that you have never met a politician, ever worked a job where you made a mistake that you wanted to hide, or quite frankly, watched television or a movie.

The trooper involved said three times that he used the TVI method to end the chase. But, hours later, State Patrol officials in the Panhandle said LaDeaux instigated the collision with his swerving. Dash cam video shows the trooper’s cruiser veering into LeDeaux’s car. Despite the conflicting testimony, the Sheridan County grand jury concluded that LaDeaux’s actions caused his death.

Speculation swirls inside the patrol. Was a false narrative used to avoid additional scrutiny of the procedure? Use of such force requires extra paperwork and extra paperwork could play into the hands of an attorney seeking to sue the state agency at the family’s request. Were the higher ups trying to avoid such consequences?

Ricketts said Jackson will launch his agency review immediately and complete it quickly.

Well that’s one approach. I don’t think it’s the best approach, but I do agree that something needs to be done.

A good friend who retired from the Patrol said things usually don’t go well when people without a law enforcement background are sent to a law

enforcement agency for a quick review and policy decisions are then made based on the limited information.

But then, he added, “politics is sometimes more about the noise than the result.”

J.L. Schmidt is the statehouse correspondent of the Nebraska Press Association. He has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered independent for 18 years.

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