A brief filed by the district attorney’s office outlines the morning of February 18th.
It all started around 1:00 a.m., Wilmington Police Corporal Will Richards and his trainee Officer Schwartz were patrolling the area around South College Road. Corporal Richards used to be in the Narcotics Division, but at the time of the incident, he supervised late Officer Rich Matthews’ platoon.
At 1:15 a.m., Richards and Schwartz saw an SUV on South College. Their lights and sirens went on immediately, as they attempted to stop the SUV for speeding.
Inside the car were three people: the driver, Anthony Pierce, Eric Smith, and Matthew Hendy – both passengers. All three are convicted felons. Pierce spent ten years in prison in Pennsylvania for armed robbery. Smith served two years in federal prison on drug charges, and faced a number of drug charges within the state of NC. Matthew Hendy was convicted of trafficking cocaine earlier in the month.
The SUV pulled over by Long Leaf Hills, or so Corporal Richards thought. Once he started getting out of his car, the SUV took off. This is where the chase began.
According to a legal brief filed by the DA’s office, not only was the SUV speeding and driving through stop signs, but bags of marijuana were being thrown from car windows on both the passenger and driver’s sides. That was when Corporal Richards called for backup. Officer Matthews responded.
Officer Matthews and Officer Allison Jahreis had been parked on Carolina Beach Road at the time of the call. They immediately threw on their lights and sirens and headed toward Long Leaf Hills; Matthews was leading the way. His top speed along College Road is reported at 102 mph. A speed, fellow officers say, is allowed on a stretch of road like Shipyard Boulevard, with little road traffic at that time of night.
Because convicted felons were leading the chase, and according to police, in possession of drugs, that type of pursuit is considered acceptable. According to the prosecution’s brief, the marijuana all three suspects were throwing out of the window had been stolen from other drug dealers earlier that night.
Given Corporal Richards’ background in narcotics, he knew this was a dangerous situation. In his experience, drug dealers are almost always armed. It turned out, these suspects were. Someone reported finding a .40 caliber handgun near the Senior Center on South College Road the following day. The gun was allegedly thrown from the vehicle at one point during the chase and it was fully loaded.
As Officer Matthews was traveling down Shipyard, toward South College, at about 100 mph, he saw a cardboard box in the road. The box had nothing to do with the suspects; they were never driving along Shipyard Blvd. at any point in the night. Matthews swerved to avoid the box, and his car turned left, straight into a set of trees, killing him.
Anthony Pierce is now being charged with the second degree murder. This based on the theory that if Pierce had only stopped for Coporal Richards when he tried to pull him over the first time, Richards would never have called for back-up, and Officer Matthews would not have been speeding down Shipyard to help.
Because Pierce was a convicted felon, and was no stranger to breaking the law, District Attorney Ben David argues Pierce was aware that by continuing to flee, he was putting everyone involved in a potentially life threatening situation.
“It’s important to send this message to anyone who would flee from officers. If a death results, in the course of that pursuit, they will be held responsible to the fullest extent of the law,” said David.
According to state law and the Wilmington Police Department’s policy, officers can exceed the speed limit if they are pursuing a vehicle and/or person that is a danger to the community at that time, or in an emergency situation.
That being said, any officer who engages in a pursuit or chase must have their lights and sirens on to warn other drivers where they are.
Since Officer Matthews was located fairly close to where Corporal Richards was chasing the suspects, Matthews was called as immediate backup.