By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – It was a tragic accident that didn’t have to be. On June 25, 2022, police pursued the suspect at speeds of up to 100 mph through heavily populated surface streets in Oakland until the driver of the Nissan 350Z lost control on International Boulevard.
The driver slammed into a row of parked cars and motorcycles, and crushed 27-year-old Lolo Soakai. His mother, Lavina Soakai, was gravely injured with a broken back. Family members Ina Lavalu and Daniela Fifita, and a friend, Sam Finau, were injured.
Instead of calling for medical assistance and stopping to render aid, the Oakland Police officers drove past the scene with one of them reportedly remarking that he hoped the driver of the Nissan had died in the crash. They returned minutes later once 911 was called and emergency responders were racing to the scene, pretending to be unaware of the horrendous crash.
According to the suit filed in San Francisco Federal Court on Thursday, “The two Oakland officers watched the carnage, injuries and death they caused, but they did not stop their car or even summon emergency medical services. Instead, they kept their sirens and lights off, their radios dead, and doubled-back to the scene when they heard other police sirens responding. When they returned to the scene, they pretended to have just arrived and were overheard saying that they hoped that the driver had died in the crash.”
Civil Rights Attorney Adante Pointer called the conduct “reckless complete disregard of police policies and practices.”
He announced at a press conference on Thursday that the family of Lolo Soakai has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department for a ‘ghost pursuit’—chasing a car without lights, sirens or authorization—that ended in a collision that struck and killed the young man, and severely injured his mother, along with his family and others waiting for food outside a popular burrito truck.
“We have filed this federal lawsuit seeking accountability, seeking to hold the city of Oakland and the involved police officers accountable for the death, the destruction, and the carnage they caused this family,” Pointer said.
“These officers engaged in an unsanctioned, deadly car chase in order to satisfy their ego and urge to arrest someone for a low-level traffic infraction,” he explained. “We expect officers to have the maturity and discipline to not give chase, or to discontinue a vehicle peursuit, when the odds of catastrophic injury or death are high. These officers ignored their training and commonsense which cost a good man his life.”
The officers gave chase after observing the suspect’s vehicle participating in a “sideshow” street car rally, although since 2014 Oakland Police Department policy has forbidden pursuits for non-violent crimes.
The policy reads: “Pursuits may only be initiated when there is reasonable suspicion to believe the fleeing individual committed a violent forcible crime and/or a crime involving the use of a firearm, or probable cause that the individual is in possession of a firearm.”
Pointer explained, “These officers are trained and the policy tells them that you cannot engage in such a reckless car chase on the city streets unless you are pursuing the most dangerous and heinous of criminals, someone who’s committed some type of forcible rape or murder, high crimes, not a misdemeanor and not a traffic infraction for this very purpose because when you do those type of things, not only do the officers place themselves in danger, not only do they place the person they’re pursuing in danger, but they place the community in danger.”
He said, “it was foreseeable that when they broke their training and their policy, that death and destruction would be the result.”
This was a low-level travel offense that they were attempting to bring into custody.
Pointer alleged that because they knew they were not supposed to do this, “they engaged in a ghost chase.”
He said, “A ghost chase is a tactic that Oakland police officers use in order to avoid scrutiny of their supervisors in order to not have to seek supervision or permission to engage in the chase in order so that the chase is not documented and so that they can pursue someone for ego because they don’t want to let a person go at no matter the cost. That is what happened here.”
He noted, “In Oakland, these lights automatically trigger a dash cam.”
But he explained they also warn the public.
He said “emergency lights and sirens play a critical role in warning bystanders that serious police activity is heading their way. This car came speeding like a missile out of the dark, killed a good man and left others with serious physical and psychological injuries. The decision to give chase, despite policy and without permission, caused this tragedy.”
This was a night, Pointer explained, where the family was supposed to be celebrating a graduation.
Pointer explained that the decisions by the police came to a fatal conclusion, in which the car lost control, hit a number of cars and hit a number of people.
He said, “It resulted in a young man, a god-fearing man, an innocent man, a faithful man to his family losing his life. And a completely preventable tragedy that the young man, Lolo Soakai,” suffered.
He added, “No parent should have to go through such a painful experience, a life altering occasion when they were in a celebratory mode for graduation and thinking and dreaming about the future and what it would be. Instead, these two OPD police officers brought, brought them death and destruction.”