21-year-old Miracle Johnson was close to home when she was killed in a horrific car accident on January 3, 2020. She was the passenger in a Saturn that was part of a high-speed police chase. Her family was unaware of that until WXYZ's Ross Jones contacted them to ask about it. It was the first time anyone had updated them on the investigation.
The driver of the car was Lonell Dixon. He was driving while drunk, and his license was suspended at the time of the tragic accident. His intent was to drop his friend off at home, but they were being followed. And he might have known that it was a Detroit Police car that was tailing him.
Because of that, he blew through a red light and hit an SUV, which flipped. The crash injured Dixon and the couple in the vehicle he hit. Paramedics pronounced Ms. Johnson dead at the scene.
She was just a block away from her home.
That news surprised her family as they watched the video of what happened. Johnson's mother, Paula Gribble, told WXYZ: "It's horrible. It's horrible to have to live through this. I wouldn't wish this on somebody I hated."
Much of the blame for what happened that night has landed on Dixon. However, there is an investigation into the Detroit Police officers' role in the tragedy. And if the chase was even legal or warranted.
Investigation into chase
Detroit Police squad car 8-36 is semi-marked. There are sirens and lights on the vehicle, but they are not immediately visible. Detroit Police is stenciled on the side of the car, but the letters are dark and impossible to see at night.
There were three officers in the car on the night of January 3, 2020; officer Xhesian Zaimi in the driver's seat, officer Christopher Bush in the front passenger seat, and an unnamed officer in the back. There was also a ride-along, Zaimi's cousin.
According to a report filed the next day, Zaimi said Dixon was speeding. However, this does not appear to be the case. The dashcam footage did not support the allegation. Further, a sergeant wrote that Zaimi "did not have probable cause" to stop the car.
While pursuing Dixon, the lights and sirens were not turned on. The officers did turn on the spotlight. They claimed that it was to illuminate the license plate. A claim that was proven to be false, dashcam footage shows that the license plate was already lit up.
After the spotlight was turned on, Dixon took off. He narrowly missed hitting one car and then nearly crashed into a tree. Zaimi followed him but did not turn on the sirens or lights as the Detroit Police Department policy dictates they should have. They did keep the spotlight on.
Dennis Kenney is a professor of law enforcement at New York's John Jay College who's studied police chases across the country. He told WXYZ's Ross Jones that there was no reason the officers should have pursued Dixon without sirens and lights. He continued on to say: "Pursuits are extremely dangerous. There are very few outcomes that can happen when a pursuit occurs and most of them are bad. The whole point of the lights and siren is to warn everyone so they can protect themselves, get out of the way."
Speeds reached in excess of 65 miles per hour while Zaimi chased Dixon. Unsuspecting motorists were not given the proper warning.
But that's not all.
Covering it up?
Many question why Zaimi or Bush did not turn on the sirens and lights. Some believe that it is because doing that would have automatically started recording the chase. Their motivation for not wanting this to be documented remains unknown but is under investigation by Detroit Police Internal Affairs. The leading theory is that they did not want their superiors to know they conducted an improper pursuit.
Attorney David Robinson told Jones (via DeadlineDetroit) that he believes Zaimi and Bush knew they were in the wrong. He thinks they wanted to conceal it because it violated DPD policy and would have landed them in trouble.
They also failed to disclose that the accident stemmed from their pursuit. It would take them hours to even acknowledge that they had been chasing Dixon. The only reason it came to light was that a sergeant reviewed the dashcam video, which the officers did not realize was already recording.
Causing even more suspicion, all three officers in the squad car were seen turning off their body cameras. Another violation of department policy. They also failed to disclose that Zaimi's cousin was in the backseat of the squad car.
A judge who heard arguments in the case ruled that none of the officers were credible. The ruling also read that it appeared as though there was an effort to conceal the events that led to Johnson's death.
None of the officers were willing to comment on the record.
Detroit Police Department said in a statement: "The DPD's investigation of the motor vehicle crash on January (3), 2020, which included an independent review by the Wayne County Prosecutors Office, remains pending and is nearing completion. Based upon the findings of that investigation, the Department will take appropriate disciplinary action, if warranted. DPD continues its efforts to flag for high-risk behavior."