Omaha, NE—Only weeks after a deadly chase and crash ended with one man dead and the Nebraska State Trooper involved in the chase changing his story a top commander with the State Patrol was accusing the patrol of foul play.
In an in house e-mail, Internal Affairs Lt. Dennis Leonard—who has since retired—clearly voiced his frustration with the patrol’s handling of the case.
“I never thought this likely but I must say that I no longer believe we are capable of objectively investigating our own,” wrote Leonard, supporting sources who have told News Channel Nebraska that the patrol has been involved in a cover-up.
The e-mail, obtained by News Channel Nebraska following a public records request, comes on the heels of NCN’s investigation into the death of 32-year-old Antoine LaDeaux.
As News Channel Nebraska first reported the chase— which ended with LeDeaux dead and his brother complaining about the patrol’s pursuit— was recorded on Trooper Tim Flick’s in-car camera (see the video above).
The chase hit speeds estimated at 80 miles an hour before the victim’s car flipped several times raising questions about a little used police technique known as tactical vehicle intervention or TVI.
Because LaDeaux technically died in police custody the case wound up before a Sheridan County Grand Jury which heard evidence that LaDeaux was not wearing a seat belt, was driving drunk— nearly three times the legal limit— with some marijuana in his system.
In the end the 16-member grand jury—after deliberating no more than 35 minutes—concluded there was “no criminal conduct on the part of any individual” and no charges were filed.
But as News Channel Nebraska has learned the grand jury did not hear from Lt. Leonard (more on that below).
The chase under scrutiny starts just before 10:30 p.m. on October 3 when a silver Mercury Sable with no license plates apparently runs a stop sign near Gordon, Nebraska; that’s enough for Trooper Flick to start his pursuit eventually asking for and receiving permission to perform the TVI.
Nearly seven minutes later the two cars apparently hit, the Sable veering right and flipping. Three passengers were injured, the driver who was ejected died at the scene as Flick blurts out “crap” when he realizes the man is dead.
News Channel Nebraska has learned that the patrol’s use of TVI’s is not shared by other key law enforcement agencies in the state.
Both Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning and Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis tell NCN their departments do not allow TVI’s. Davis calls them “dangerous…puts a lot of people in harm’s way.”
According to Lincoln Police, they have instructors who are trained in TVI along with the “SWAT team and some street sergeants.”
Omaha Deputy Police Chief Greg Gonzalez tells NCN, “Per city legal, it’s recommended at this point we don’t teach the maneuver…due to liability.”
Legal liability is referred to in the patrol’s emails as the patrol’s insurance claims adjuster noted that as of Oct. 28, three weeks after the crash, “nothing has been filed against the State.”
As for the grand jury investigation, largely due to the trooper’s contradictory explanation of what happened that night along with the arguably curious testimony of the patrol’s TVI expert, some jurors were seemingly confused and raising their share of questions as did Sheridan County Attorney Jamian Simmons.
News Channel Nebraska asked Simmons about the outcome.
NCN: Were you surprised with the grand jury’s decision?
County Attorney: Was I surprised? I never know what a jury is going to do. I try not to second guess a jury. I don’t know.
During the grand jury’s one-day hearing Flick—who according to testimony was trained and certified to conduct a TVI—testified that he did not perform a TVI, but the night of the crash he said he did.
In addition the patrol’s TVI expert, Sgt. Cody Paro—who testified that a TVI is not “ramming…it’s a controlled maneuver”— told the grand jury that Flick had followed patrol procedure.
County Attorney: Did you review the video?
Sgt. Cody Paro: Yes, ma’am.
County Attorney: Would you say that the TVI itself was done correctly?
Sgt. Cody Paro: Yes, ma’am.
Two months earlier—three days after the crash and after Flick reviewed the video—during his voluntary debriefing with the patrol Flick said: “Looking back I would have said there’s been a collision and the vehicle spun.”
In front of the grand jury Flick had this to say:
County Attorney: You called out (on the video) that a TVI occurred, correct?
Trooper Flick: I absolutely did say that. Later I realized that I did not TVI them….He TVI’d himself.
Grand Juror 13 (the jurors’ names are confidential): So a TVI didn’t really happen?
Trooper Flick: Correct.
Grand Juror 13: What I don’t understand is how the previous witness—the State Patrol’s expert on TVI’s—can say this was a textbook TVI if it wasn’t really a TVI?
Trooper Flick: I guess he’s just watching the video. I mean I don’t know.
Flick was also questioned about the speeds involved.
On the video Flick says that when the crash occurred he was going 50 miles an hour. That number changed during his grand jury testimony.
County Attorney: It was reported to dispatch that the TVI occurred at 50 miles an hour.
Trooper Flick: Yes.
County Attorney: I believe from the reconstruction the speeds were actually higher than that. Around 60, 66?
Trooper Flick: Yes. The difference is that last time I looked at my speedometer as I’m trying to get in position was 50 miles per hour.
Later that day one of the jurors added this:
Grand Juror 10: I was wondering back to the video when Flick said he was doing only 50 the first go-around and all of sudden the car accelerated to 66 miles an hour. That time frame doesn’t quite jive.
Flick also testified that he’d only seen two people in the car, the driver and someone sitting shotgun. But there were four. LaDeaux, his brother 30-year-old Carmen LaDeaux, and two women—their cousin Alicia Munoz and 25-year-old Alana Rosales.
The night of the crash Carmen LaDeaux screams at Flick, “Why did you ram us”? Flick responded, “I did not ram you.”Flick told the grand jury that he didn’t call off the chase because he “didn’t want the driver hurting anyone else on the road.” He also testified that had he known there were four people in the car he would “probably not” have attempted a TVI.
LaDeaux, who admits all four had been drinking vodka and rum that night, took his complaint to the grand jurors telling them, “It was bull s–t for what (Trooper Flick) did. He killed a good man.”
According to court records, Antoine LaDeaux was in and out of trouble with police for the past 17 years, with felony convictions in 2003 and 2004 for criminal mischief, assault and assaulting an officer. In 2014, twice in one month, he was arrested and convicted of littering. In 2015 he was convicted of drunk driving, a 1st offense misdemeanor.
It’s not clear if any members of the patrol were reprimanded for their actions in the Flick case. A separate public records request by News Channel Nebraska has been denied. According to a letter from the patrol, “In this particular case the SLEBC (State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council) contract requires that the Internal Affairs matters are confidential.”
A spokesman for the patrol has told News Channel Nebraska that, “NSP has not changed its TVI policy.”
Four days after the crash, Flick received a memo from the man in charge of the state patrol, Colonel Brad Rice. Along with returning Flick to his normal duties, Rice wrote, “Your efforts in such a difficult situation were extremely appreciated, and reflect the commitment and professionalism of the Nebraska State Patrol.”
News Channel Nebraska has tried to contact Flick but the patrol’s spokesman says Trooper Flick will not be available for comment.
Sgt. Travis Wallace, a state trooper certified to reconstruct accidents, examined the crash aftermath and told the grand jury that Flick appeared to attempt a TVI but in the end it was an “unintentional” TVI.
In his emails Internal Affairs Lt. Leonard says, “It is clearly a TVI.” And Leonard, in an email referring to Wallace’s conclusion Leonard wrote, “I just watched the video again and I do not believe this conclusion by an agency expert is either objective or factually correct.”
Colonel Rice has issued a statement downplaying the internal dissent.
“As with any organization, there are disagreements on different topics within NSP,” says Rice. “The disagreements in this case in no way changed the outcome, or what was presented to the grand jury. Everything was presented to the grand jury and the finding was no true bill. I continue to have the utmost confidence in our staff, from field level to command staff, to investigate matters within the Nebraska State Patrol.”
However, Lt. Leonard’s critical remarks— first and foremost his complaint that the patrol is no longer “capable of objectively investigating” its own—were never heard directly by the grand jury.
Leonard was not called to testify.
Joe can be heard Tuesday’s at 7:10 a.m. on KLIN radio with Jack Mitchell.