A Junction City motorcycle police officer, caught on camera colliding with a suspect who was fleeing on foot last summer, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Lane County Circuit Court to a charge of recklessly endangering another person.
The arraignment for Officer Scott Lorimor came following a monthslong investigation by the Eugene Police Department of the Aug. 26 high-speed chase and crash.
Lorimor had been sent to help the Benton County Sheriff’s Office find a suspect driving a red Chevrolet Cobalt. The pursuit started in Monroe and the driver passed Junction City officers at speeds of between 80 and 100 mph on Highway 99, according to Junction City Police Chief Bob Morris in a news release Tuesday. Morris said the suspect was driving in a reckless manner, “dangerously passing other southbound vehicles” by traveling south in the northbound lane.
Prior to officers catching up to the suspect, he tried to make a right-hand turn onto 18th Street and crashed into a vehicle at a stop sign in Junction City, Morris said. He fled from his vehicle and began running south on 18th Street toward the Safeway and a group of bystanders, the chief said.
Lorimor followed on his motorcycle before crashing into the suspect as the road curves to the right, knocking both to the ground. A witness cellphone video obtained by KEZI shows Lorimor driving alongside the running suspect before swerving to the right and hitting him with the front right side of his motorcycle.
NEW VIDEO: The moment a Junction City police motorcycle collides with a suspect following a high-speed pursuit on Thursday. The suspect, Derrick Freeman, 25, was taken to a hospital and later charged. pic.twitter.com/Szdlyu7pXM
— KEZI 9 NEWS (@KEZI9) August 27, 2021
Morris said the suspect was transported to a local hospital and was later released.
Following the incident, Lorimor was reassigned to a non-enforcement position while the case was under investigation.
The 25-year-old suspect was issued six criminal citations by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, but no charges have been filed so far by the Benton County District Attorney’s Office, which is still investigating. The citations include unlawful possession of a firearm, second-degree trespassing, reckless driving, eluding a vehicle, felony-level driving with a suspended license, and trespassing with a firearm.
Disagreement over whether collision was intentional
Lorimor’s attorney Dan Thenell disagreed with the assessment that the officer swerved into the suspect and said they swerved into each other. Thenell argued his client accidentally hit the suspect and was trying to drive in front of him to stop him from running toward the entrance of the Safeway, which he thinks posed a threat.
“He was trying to get in front of him to block him with his bike,” Thenell said in an interview with The Register-Guard following the arraignment. “He wasn't trying to hit him with his motorcycle. He was trying to get in front of him to stop him from fleeing into a crowded Safeway.”
Thenell said he was shocked at Lorimor being charged and said the District Attorney’s Office originally asked the grand jury to consider more serious felony-level charges in the case.
District Attorney Patricia Perlow said her office would not be commenting on the ongoing case.
When the cellphone video was first posted on Twitter, commenters said it looked like an intentional maneuver to knock the suspect over.
Professor Tung Yin, who teaches criminal procedure and other courses at Lewis and Clark Law School, said it looked intentional to him, with Lorimor’s turn to the right hitting the suspect in the hip.
“It really does look like there's that kind of intentional turn and bump,” Yin said. “In some ways it kind of looks like using the motorcycle to do a PIT maneuver on a person.”
Yin said officers are allowed to use force to stop suspects, but how much depends on the severity of the crime and what danger they pose. He also noted the defense could arguably cite the Supreme Court case Scott v. Harris from 2007, in which a Georgia man was intentionally hit by a pursuing officer to stop a high-speed car chase, which led to the man being paralyzed. The injured man, Victor Harris, later filed a civil rights lawsuit against the officer.
The court sided with police and said the officer’s attempt to stop a “high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders” does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it puts the fleeing driver at risk of serious injury or death.
The difference in this case, Yin said, is that a suspect fleeing on foot poses less danger than someone driving at high speeds.
“When you have a suspect in a car, that's going to be more of a threat to innocent people, even people in other cars,” he said. “A guy on foot running from the police? Not quite anywhere near the same kind of direct threat to innocent bystanders.”
Officer served as motorcycle instructor
Lorimor was first hired by Oregon State Police in 1984 and retired as a sergeant in 2011, but continued to serve as a seasonal trooper assigned to judicial security, the dignitary protection unit, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as an access and habitat trooper through 2019, Morris wrote.
Lorimor was also a motorcycle officer and instructor for at least eight years and served as a motorcycle instructor at Team Oregon, the state’s motorcycle safety program, for 25 years, Morris said.
“The Junction City Police has faith in, and supports, the criminal justice and grand jury process, and believes the matter will be resolved in a judiciously fair manner,” Morris said in his release.
Oregon police departments conduct their own police motorcycle trainings separate from the state’s Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, according to DPSST training director Hassan Hassan. Oregon law does not explicitly forbid use of force with motorcycles, Hassan noted.
“Oregon law allows for the use of physical force to make an arrest or prevent an escape as long as the force is necessary and reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances,” he said.
Lorimor’s next court date is March 22 for a status hearing.
Louis Krauss covers breaking news for The Register-Guard. Contact him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @LouisKraussNews.
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Junction City officer charged in crashing motorcycle into suspect