Oakland’s Urbanview Reveals New Evidence in Auto-Death Case

For immediate release: July 31, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland police documents have revealed that a high-speed police chase by a two-week rookie Oakland police officer preceded the auto accident that claimed the life of 22 year-old Oakland resident U’Kendra Johnson last February, according to a column published this week in Oakland’s Urbanview newspaper. The accident took place in the early morning hours at the corner of Seminary Avenue and Avenal. Oakland police officials have been insisting for several months that no police chase preceded the accident.

The officer involved in the high-speed chase was Ingo Mayer.

Oakland police officials blamed the death on Oakland’s late night “sideshows.” Shortly before he smashed his automobile into the car in which Johnson was a passenger, 24 year-old Oakland resident Eric Crawford had been observed doing “donuts” in his car on Foothill Boulevard. He has been charged with murder in Johnson’s death.

However, details of what took place between the “donut” activity on Foothill Boulevard and the accident several blocks away on Seminary Avenue have been scarce, until now.

Documents recently placed in Crawford’s case file reveal that OPD officer Mayer and his partner, D’Vour Thurston, chased Crawford at high speeds for several blocks through residential East Oakland streets after observing him doing “donuts” in his car. Mayer and Thurston apparently filed no report on the accident or the events that preceded it. Instead, they were interviewed about the accident by an OPD homicide investigator, on tape, with their attorney present, after having been advised of their rights. No charges have been brought against the officers.

Columnist J. Douglas Allen-Taylor revealed the information this week in Urbanview newspaper in his weekly column ?Oakland Unwrapped.?

About J. Douglas Allen-Taylor:
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor is an author, a journalist, and a graduate of Castlemont High School. He can be reached at safero@earthlink.net. His homepage is www.safero.org.

About Urbanview:
Urbanview is a free alternative weekly exclusively devoted to covering the politics, art, and culture of Oakland and the East Bay.

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Oakland Unwrapped
“The Eric Crawford Case File”
By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Sometimes, what it takes to deal with Oakland government is patience. Four months after I asked them for it, Oakland City officials finally released some information about the U?Kendra Johnson accident. They didn?t release much.

I had asked for the “factual circumstances surrounding the arrest” of Eric Crawford, the man who has been accused of driving the car that killed the 22 year-old Johnson last February. In a July 11th letter to me, Supervising Deputy City Attorney Mark Morodomi wrote that Crawford was “observed spinning donuts at 61st Avenue and Foothill Boulevard (in his car) … then left the scene at a high rate of speed” and collided with the car in which Johnson was a passenger. Morodomi wrote that the officers who observed Crawford spinning donuts were Ingo Mayer and D?Vour Thurston. Interestingly, Morodomi did not identify the officers who actually arrested Crawford. In addition, Morodomi said nothing about the high-speed police chase which, witnesses say, preceded the accident. That’s why I wanted to look in the case file myself, to see if there was any evidence that either backed up or refuted the witnesses’ claims. And, as it turned out, maybe that’s why City officials didn’t want me to get a look.

Last week, I got the chance to look in the Crawford case file without the help of either the City Attorney’s office or the Oakland Police Department. I found a couple of interesting things.

But the most interesting thing was what I didn’t find. Nowhere in the case file was there an incident report from either Mayer or Thurston, the officers who the City Attorney’s office said observed Eric Crawford spinning donuts in his car.

Instead, the file showed that on the day of the accident, Mayer and Thurston were each interviewed separately by OPD Homicide Division Sergeant Jeffrey Ferguson, on tape, each officer with his attorney present. Before they were interviewed, Ferguson advised both officers of their rights. The lawyer representing both Mayer and Thurston was Rochne Lucia, whose firm often represents police officers charged with crimes. As arresting officers in a traffic accident reporting the accident to their superiors, why would Mayer and Thurston feel they needed to be represented by an attorney?

Transcripts of the two taped interviews do not appear in the case file, only Sergeant Ferguson’s brief interview notes.

According to the notes, Mayer and Thurston both observed Crawford doing donuts on Foothill Boulevard, followed him to the crash scene, and arrested him after the crash. The officers said that when Crawford took off southbound on 61st they followed him in their car, with Mayer driving. The officers estimated that Crawford was driving somewhere between 40 and 60 miles per hour, and said that he was one to two blocks ahead of the patrol car. No estimate of their own speed is in Ferguson’s notes. The notes on Mayer’s interview said that there was “no radio transmission, not close enough.” Presumably, that probably meant that Mayer and Thurston did not call in the chase to the OPD dispatcher. In the notes on Thurston’s interview, he says that when the officers chased after Crawford, they drove with “lights on through intersection.”

The interview notes also indicate that Mayer, the driver of the police vehicle, was a rookie. He had been on the job no more than two weeks. Thurston, his partner, was a three-year veteran.

There are discrepancies between facts reported in the Mayer/Thurston interviews and statements I heard from other witnesses, who said that the officers were closer than a block behind Crawford, that the chase lasted for several more blocks than the officers reported, and that the officers never turned on their flashing lights. Those witnesses were never interviewed by OPD.

But much is clear, even with the discrepancies.

Officers Ingo Mayer and D’Vour Thurston were interviewed by Sergeant Ferguson on the same day U’Kendra Johnson died. So from the very beginning, police officials knew that a high-speed police chase down residential streets preceded the auto accident. OPD officials have never publicly admitted that fact. OPD Information Officer George Philips, in fact, has flatly denied that there was a police chase.

“Cover up” is an overused term. But what other term would you use to describe this? And how much did that high-speed police chase contribute to the death of U’Kendra Johnson?