OCALA, Fla. - When a man suspected of violently carjacking a woman at an Ocala CVS last month drove off in her car and was spotted minutes later driving erratically, an Ocala Police Lieutenant gave patrol officers the green light to pursue.
Police said Michael Jenkins had yanked a 66-year-old woman out of her Toyota Camry and took off in it.
At the time, they didn't know it was Jenkins behind the wheel or that he was a violent felon on probation for armed robbery. All they knew is a violent carjacker was on the run and driving at high speeds on sidewalks and the wrong side of the road.
Community Policing Division Major Lou Biondi said that criteria alone - that the driver of the stolen Camry was wanted for a violent carjacking - gave officers the legal authority to pursue.
"We have a policy that says when we can and cannot chase and this was a definitely chase situation," Biondi said. "Because of the crime he committed, a violent felony."
A detective quickly spotted the out-of-control Camry and radioed for approval to pursue. A commanding officer gave the OK.
"We were well within our rights to chase, by policy and state statute," Biondi said. "There's always the should versus could or can. We can do lots of things and don't for a myriad of reasons. But in this case, we have the victim in her mid '60s and there's no telling what he was going to do afterward."
Police car dashcam video shows several patrol cars pursuing the Camry from one end of Ocala to the other, through backyards, stop signs, and eventually a fence at Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School.
Police stopped at the fence but the Camry smashed through it, barreled down the courtyard and crashed into a wall outside the Library.
Hundreds of children were huddled in the library. The principal had just ordered a "Code Yellow" - everyone indoors - when she heard the sirens in the area.
"In this case, we're very fortunate that things played out the way they did," Biondi said. "Had there been cues along the way where the risk outweighed the reward of getting the bad guy, we would've canceled."
Biondi said every pursuit must be authorized by a commanding officer and must be commanded and coordinated by a commanding officer. The supervisor oversees the pursuit turn by turn and decides whether the pursuit should continue moment by moment.
"He was pedal to the medal the whole time, we, in turn, have to slow down and look for other cars and pedestrians," Biondi said. "He was all over the road, driving from shoulder to shoulder, very dangerous. And we don't take chasing cars likely. But sometimes it's absolutely necessary."
Several Central Florida law enforcement agencies have been criticized and even sued for pursuits that didn't involve violent suspected felons or ended badly with innocent people injured or killed.
Biondi said any number of people could have been killed had officers not pursued Jenkins.
"Very good possibility If we didn't chase him that he could've gone on to kill somebody," Biondi said. "The end result is getting the bad guy who has no regard for someone else's personal rights or property. In this case, he didn't care. We did the right thing and protected the community."
Biondi said when Jenkins was arrested, officers realized he was high on some sort of narcotic.
He was charged with Carjacking, Felony Fleeing & Eluding, Driving While License Suspended (3rd Offense), Disrupting School Function, Trespassing on School Property, and Culpable Negligence.
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