Documents call into question whether deadly DeSoto County chase should’ve happened

HERNANDO, Miss. -- WREG has obtained new documents that call into question the legitimacy of a high-speed chase that killed a woman last year.

DeSoto County deputies said they tried to pull over a stolen car on Highway 78. Instead, the driver took off. They started chasing at high speeds and along the way, the drivers they were trying to catch hit Lisa Gay’s car. The Batesville grandmother died at the scene of the accident.

“She never met a stranger. If she could help you, even if that meant taking away from herself, she would," said Terria McMinn, the victim's daughter. “They wanted, ‘We’re gonna teach a lesson’ per se. You’re not going to come through our county and get away with it."

WREG wanted to know how do DeSoto County deputies decide whether to chase. We requested the DeSoto County chase policy but it took months for us to fight to obtain a redacted version. Then, we requested the radio calls from that day last November. Again, we got a redacted version of the transcript.

“Chases are always difficult because they’re dangerous. There’s always the unknown," said Bennie Cobb, a retired captain with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

Lisa Gay's car after the wreck

Cobb examined the DeSoto County policy.

“The policy is kinda clear cut," he said. "It’s basically the same policy most law enforcement agencies abide by. I don’t see anything that sticks out as far as policy is concerned."

According to the DeSoto County policy, “deputies are authorized to initiate a pursuit when it is reasonable to believe the suspect is attempting to evade arrest…”

The policy goes on to say deputies should consider 12 other factors. Number 1: "the seriousness of the known or reasonably suspected crime and its relationship to community safety."

We showed it to Cobb to use his experience in law enforcement to shed light on whether he believed DeSoto County deputies followed their policy.

According to the transcript, before they pull over the car, a deputy asked dispatch if the suspects’ car was a “regular stolen.” Dispatch tells them it’s a car that wasn’t returned to Avis at a Florida airport and the person who rented it used a driver’s license “not on file.”

“What was known is this vehicle was a rental car that was not returned, which is not a violent situation," Cobb said.

Still, according to the transcript we obtained, when the suspect took off, deputies followed in pursuit and told dispatch they were “trying to catch up to it.”

“The only thing they really knew at the time of the pursuit was that the vehicle was stolen,” Cobb said. “I’ve read that [DeSoto County] pursuit policy and it does not follow that policy. It actually goes outside what the policy says."

Cobb said a supervisor should’ve stopped the chase. Instead, the deputy driving said he lost sight of the vehicle and that’s why he stopped.

Then, a deputy points out the fleeing car has crashed. They ask for help because the suspect vehicle “struck another vehicle that’s rolled over.” They say they “have a possible entrapment.”

They’re talking about Lisa Gay.

“This pursuit was not worth the risk and it was not worth the consequences,” Cobb said. “Once it was known what the pursuit was for, it should’ve been terminated. The consequences certainly weren’t worth it. It was not justified and a life was lost for a vehicle not returned to the rental company."

“They took everything away from my mother. They took everything," McMinn said.

Deputies in another county eventually caught up with the fleeing suspects and arrested Tae’ona Edmondson and Tanairy Portal.

At the time, DeSoto County officials wouldn’t comment.

McMinn said she hoped they'd reevaluate: either hold these deputies accountable or adjust the policy, so another family won’t have to go through what they did.

WREG made multiple attempts to contact the DeSoto County Sheriff's Office to ask if they feel they followed policy and if they've made any changes since. Deputies referred us to Sheriff Bill Rasco and he has not responded to our calls, texts or emails.

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