A Montgomery County police officer denied a D.C. man's defense attorney's claims that police caused the fatal crash that ended a brief, high-speed pursuit of a stolen vehicle in March in Chevy Chase.
Officer Keith Diehm, a patrol officer from the county police department's Bethesda district, testified Wednesday in the trial of 19-year-old Reeco R. Richardson, who is charged with auto theft.
Richardson was the front seat passenger of the stolen Toyota Echo and the lone survivor of a fiery March 23 crash that claimed the lives of three others in the car. In a $10 million civil suit filed against county police in April, defense attorneys Donald R. Huskey and Governor E. Jackson claim a police cruiser caused the crash when it rammed the Toyota near the Chevy Chase Circle. Diehmís testimony directly contradicted that claim.
Jackson could only allude to the claim in his opening statements Wednesday, telling the jury that prosecutors were intentionally withholding the truth.
Diehm testified he was on patrol near the intersection of Jones Mill Road and East West Highway around 1 a.m. March 23 when he ran the license plate tags on a Toyota Echo in front of him in traffic, he said after taking the stand in Montgomery County Circuit Court Wednesday. The vehicle came back stolen and the driver began to flee after Diehm and several other officers began to converge on him at a traffic light on Connecticut Avenue.
"The Toyota Echo increased its speed before I could activate my emergency equipment ... at that point I increased my speed, as well," Diehm said, explaining how both the stolen car and police embarked on a brief high-speed chase that ended when the driver of the Toyota hit the curb in Chevy Chase Circle. "... It appeared to strike the curb and then hit the tree."
Huskey addressed the issue directly on cross examination of Diehm, asking the officer if he had seen any cruisers make contact with the Toyota. Diehm, who is among the officers listed under Richardson's civil claim, denied any such contact.
"My car was close enough to the Toyota so that no other vehicle could get between us," Diehm told Huskey.
Department representatives denied the civil suit's claims immediately after they were filed April 26, just two days after Richardson was charged, but Diehm and the other officers involved have been barred from discussing the incident until his appearance in court Wednesday.
While Richardson denied having stolen the car himself, Assistant Stateís Attorney Stephen Chaikin told the jury in his opening statements that Richardson admitted to detectives that he knew the car was stolen when he accepted a ride from the driver, a friend.
"This young man participated in the crimes and he knew that car was stolen," Chaikin said. "... This case simply is about right and wrong; it's wrong to steal and it's wrong to get into a vehicle that the defendant knew was stolen and drive around."
Reading from a statement Richardson made to a county police auto detective upon his arrest, Chaikin told the jury Richardson admitted that "everybody knew the car was stolen."
Jackson and Huskey tried to bar Chaikin from using Richardson's statements in a motion filed before trial, but the motion was denied last week. Chaikin's request to shut down a defense-sponsored website promoting Richardson's innocence was also denied at the hearing.
Richardson is facing charges of unlawfully taking a vehicle, theft of more than $1,000, unauthorized removal of property and rouge and vagabond, according to court documents. His trial is expected to last through the end of the week.