Gill: Movie shows sad cop chase

If you doubt that the news is more exciting in the digital era, you should check out the video of the car chase on our website.

Get some popcorn and a cold drink, and you might as well be at the local multiplex. The action is fast and furious, the dialogue crackles with venom and the plot takes an amazing twist. Who needs Gene Hackman or Steve McQueen when you have the Baton Rouge Police Department?

The drama unfolded on a Livingston Parish road last year where Officer David Stewart was tootling along in his cruiser. Suddenly a white pickup flashed by at about double the 45 mph speed limit and zig-zagged into the distance. Mere words cannot convey the excitement that followed, which was caught on Stewart’s dashboard camera. Thank the Lord we are no longer confined to the stodgy world of print.

Although Stewart was out of his jurisdiction, this was no time to fret about legal niceties and he set off in pursuit, siren blaring and lights flashing. The suspect, ignoring calls to pull over, sped on and on. Your heart’s in your mouth, watching this chase.

Eventually the fugitive did come to a halt on the shoulder, and this is where real life diverges from the movies. At the end of a Hollywood car chase, the bad guy will generally make a run for it only to be caught and wrestled to the ground.

That was not necessary in Livingston Parish, which viewers of the video might conclude was just as well. Stewart’s burly physique is no doubt a professional asset, but sprinting does not appear to be his game. Still, he could easily rely on back-up from Livingston Parish deputies if it came to a foot-race. He was obliged to alert them anyway that he had stopped a crazy driver in their territory.

After the pickup came to a halt, the driver was not only disinclined to flee but commenced a lively exchange of views with Stewart. And then he played his trump card, whipping out a badge that proved he too was an off-duty Baton Rouge policeman. Officer Stewart, meet your colleague Cpl. Brian Harrison.

Alas, the revelation that they were brothers in arms did not cause the roadside conversation to take a more-cordial turn. When Stewart said his children frequently drove along this road, Harrison replied he didn’t care. “You ought not be a police officer,” Stewart said and Harrison agreed he was “exactly right.” So will anyone who watches the video.

It was at this stage that Stewart cancelled his request for assistance from Livingston Parish deputies because, he later told his superiors, he wanted to spare the Baton Rouge Police Department embarrassment. Harrison, pausing only to extend a middle finger, climbed back behind the wheel and drove off.

There is embarrassment aplenty now that the video has come to light along with records of the resulting internal investigation that did not produce so much as a reprimand although a supervisor professed himself “shocked” by Harrison’s “several traffic infractions.” Harrison himself did not regret behaving like a jerk, but berated Stewart in an email shortly after their altercation. Stewart should forfeit his badge, according to Harrison.

Harrison did write to his superiors apologizing for “any inconvenience” and explaining that he broke the speed limit because “the road ahead was clear,” which was as untrue as it was irrelevant. Then-Police Chief Dewayne White nevertheless decided that Stewart and Harrison were both culpable and sentenced them both to “verbal counseling.”

Whatever that entails, it doesn’t appear to have worked in Harrison’s case. In a statement issued just before the video was posted online, he explained that his behavior “stemmed from the fact that the traffic stop was conducted by a law enforcement officer who was not only outside his jurisdiction but also outside the parish in which he was commissioned in.”

Left unaddressed is the question of why Harrison was weaving through Livingston Parish at breakneck speed in the first place. There was a time when he could have denied doing so, but we’ve all seen the movie now.

James Gill can be reached at jgill@theadvocate.com.