Deputy Sean Pearce, the son of recalled State Senator Rusell Pearce, won't face criminal charges in his speeding-related crash that killed a Glendale motorist.
Maricopa County Bill Montgomery announced his office's non-charging decision this morning at a news conference, claiming that Pearce's obscured view and assignment in tracking a homicide suspect had to be taken into account. He denied strongly that politics played a part in the decision, calling such speculation "amateur analysis."
The deputy's father, Russell, once one of the most powerful politicians in the state, supported Montgomery's successful 2010 bid for office. The county attorney position isn't open to challenge for another two years, anyway, Montgomery reminded reporters.
Whether on his mind or not, Montgomery's political life would probably be affected with a high-profile manslaughter prosecution of a cop who claims to have just been doing his job. Not just any cop, either, but Russell Pearce's son, a 20-year veteran of the MCSO whose street creds include recovering from a gunshot wound he received in 2004 at the hands of a fugitive illegal immigrant. You just knew Pearce would get off, despite the fact that he was driving at 81 mph in a 40 mph zone in his unmarked Chevrolet Tahoe, with no lights blazing or sirens sounding, and not responding to any actual emergency. And you were right.
Montgomery says he personally viewed the crash video "dozens" of times. A factor considered by the prosecution review committee that ultimately made the decision not to charge was that the view of both drivers had been obscured for a brief moment by a car turning left.
As can be seen on the video, John Edward Harding's Nissan Cube was waiting to make a left-hand turn from West Hayward Avenue. It was about 1 p.m. on December 16, on a clear day. Harding, 63, was returning from a shopping trip. A compact car makes a left-hand turn from 59th Avenue onto West Hayward Avenue. A second later, Harding pulls out rather slowly, and the Tahoe suddenly races into view on an unstoppable collision course.
The Cube, despite its tiny, ungainly appearance, has "good" crash ratings. But the Tahoe, twice the Cube's weight, caved in the driver's side of the smaller vehicle. Harding died soon after at a hospital.
A Glendale police investigation concluded that if the Tahoe had been obeying the speed limit, the collision would not have occurred.
The fact that Harding and Pearce had their views obscured for a quick second, then, seems to be a moot point.
But the other significant factor was that Pearce was theoretically performing his law-enforcement duties at the time. He was "paralleling" a taxi containing the homicide suspect more than a mile away.
"He was trying to take a homicide suspect into custody," Montgomery says.
We asked Montgomery if an ordinary citizen going this fast and killing a motorist wouldn't have, in fact, faced criminal charges. We figured Montgomery would say not necessarily, and cite an example of a driver rushing his pregnant wife to a hospital, and that's exactly what Montgomery did.
However, that seems like an apples-to-prickly-pear-fruit comparison. Rushing someone to the hospital is an emergency, and Pearce wasn't having an emergency. The homicide suspect wasn't even driving a getaway car, but riding in a taxi.
If Pearce didn't receive a favor from the county attorney's office, he certainly got lucky.
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Harding's family has filed a $5 million claim against the Sheriff's Office and Pearce in the case, alleging that Pearce had a responsibility to drive with common sense, wasn't responding to an emergency and was not in a vehicle equipped with lights and sirens.
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