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GONZALES, LA (WAFB) -
A Gonzales police officer who tried to stop a speeding driver was led on a nearly three-mile chase before realizing the people he was chasing were his own off-duty comrades including the chief. The group was traveling in a privately owned vehicle.
Gonzales Police Chief Sherman Jackson, who was inside the vehicle being pursued, said he thought the incident was a "prank". "If we were in anybody else's jurisdiction, immediately we would have stopped," Jackson said.
The November 2011 police pursuit began at 1:37 a.m. on Highway 30 in Gonzales.
Through a public records request, the 9NEWS I-TEAM obtained several police incident reports related to the case. The officer who started the pursuit wrote in his incident report that he was located on Highway 30 at S. Phillippe when he clocked the driver of an SUV traveling "65MPH in a 45MPH zone."
The officer got behind the vehicle, turned on his lights and siren, and tried to get the driver to pull over, documents show.
As the pursuit continued onto Burnside Avenue and into the heart of Gonzales, other Gonzales police officers joined in. "Officers were going to various locations to assist with the traffic stop," another officer wrote in his report.
On police dispatch tapes obtained by the I-TEAM, Officer Jimmie Dunaway is heard offering to deploy spike strips to stop the fleeing vehicle. "I'm going to try to get up to 61 and set up spike strips if y'all want," the officer said over his police radio.
Dunaway wrote in his incident report that he "completed a U-turn on Cornerview and traveled west, at a high rate of speed, on Cornerview towards Airline Highway." "I planned to cut off the pursuit at Airline Highway at Purpera, before units advised that the suspect vehicle turned north on Irma. I then had to do a U-turn on Cornerview again to go back west bound."
Dunaway then positioned himself near Gonzales City Hall and says he began "blocking the roadway" for the safety of other motorists. "I hurried to my truck, removed my spike strips and deployed them across Irma Boulevard," Dunaway wrote in his incident report.
As the driver of the SUV approached the spike strips, he turned into the parking lot of Gonzales City Hall and stopped.
The driver was then identified as off-duty Gonzales Police Sergeant Kenny Stell. According to a police incident report, six other off-duty Gonzales Police personnel were also in the vehicle including Chief Sherman Jackson and "Ofc. LeBlanc, Ofc. Cantrell. Ofc. Delatte, Ofc. Dufrene, and Ofc. Pedescleaux."
The officer who started the pursuit says Officers Dufrene, Delatte, and LeBlanc "approached my vehicle laughing saying they thought we were escorting them to the office." He says Officer Delatte then told him "man, y'all ain't got no life."
No citations were issued and the officer who initiated the traffic stop noted in his report that "no further actions (were) taken."
During an interview with the I-TEAM conducted Friday morning, Chief Jackson said the incident was a huge misunderstanding. He says he and his off-duty co-workers were returning from Sullivan's, a restaurant and lounge in Baton Rouge.
"We all met at the police department and we loaded in the same vehicle and traveled to Baton Rouge," Jackson said. Jackson said one of the officers involved in the pursuit saw the group loading into the same vehicle earlier in the night. He says when the group returned to Gonzales and the pursuit began, he and his off-duty co-workers thought the on-duty officers were pulling a prank on them. "We thought he was in on it because he knew we were all together," Jackson said.
Jackson said several officers in the group sent text messages to the pursuing officers to let them know Gonzales Police officers were inside the private vehicle that was being pursued. One of the on-duty officers later noted in his report that his cell phone rang numerous times during the pursuit but he did not answer since he was involved in a pursuit at the time.
Jackson said the driver had not been drinking that night and was the designated driver for the group.
"We had no reason to stop, there was no intent to evade the police officer, there was no erratic driving, there was no cutting through highways or back streets so we really thought it was a prank," Jackson said. "I (saw) some lights at the end of Worthy at Purpera and that's when I said 'guys this isn't a prank, I think they're for real'." Jackson said.
Jackson said the on-duty officer who started the pursuit could have ticketed the driver but chose not to. "He had the right to do his job if he wanted to," Jackson said.