Attorneys allege Minnesota State Patrol wrongly destroyed evidence in fatal crash

A man is reflected in glass as he speaks from a lecturn.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman gestures toward a reporter while answering questions during a press conference about his decisions to bring charges against Minneapolis Police Officer Brian Cummings inside of the Hennepin County Government Center on Oct. 21.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2021

Attorneys for the former Minneapolis police officer involved in a fatal crash while chasing a stolen car last year are alleging that the Minnesota State Patrol wrongly destroyed evidence in the case. They’re asking for sanctions against the prosecution.  

Former officer Brian Cummings is charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal vehicular homicide for the July 6, 2021 crash that killed 40-year-old Leneal Frazier in north Minneapolis. 

Prosecutors allege that Cummings was chasing a Kia Sportage that fit the description of a stolen vehicle for about 20 blocks at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour at about 12:30 a.m. As Cummings’ squad car went through a red light at the intersection of 41st Avenue and Lyndale Avenue North, his vehicle crashed into the jeep Frazier was driving, killing him.   

Cummings’ attorneys said speed tracking information for state troopers responding to the scene and messages between troopers were destroyed in violation of state retention policies. Defense attorney Thomas Plunkett argued at a hearing Monday in Hennepin County District Court that the state was required to retain the data for seven years because there was a fatality during the incident. 

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Plunkett argues that the speed traveled by other law enforcement officers headed to the scene was relevant because it answers the question of whether Cummings “traveled at an unreasonable or reckless speed during the pursuit.” 

“Cummings’ defense is prejudiced by the inability to show the speed at which other law enforcement officers responded to the pursuit and the scene of a fatal car accident,” according to the defense’s motion.  

Defense attorneys are asking the judge overseeing the case to limit the testimony that fellow officers can give about how Cummings was driving. At minimum, they’re asking that jurors are told the destroyed evidence is favorable to the defense.  

Prosecutors said the documents demanded by defense attorneys were destroyed in line with the state’s data retention policy, “not as a result of bad faith,” according to a filing earlier this month. They also said documents demanded by defense attorneys are overly broad and involve officers who weren’t involved in this case that wouldn’t be relevant. 

Hennepin County District Judge Tamara Garcia heard each side’s arguments at a hearing on Monday. She’ll issue a decision within 30 days, according to a spokesperson for Hennepin County District Court. 

Cummings is no longer with the Minneapolis Police Department. He was charged with Frazier’s death last October. His trial is now set for May 1, 2023. 

Frazier was the uncle of Darnella Frazier, the young woman who recorded video of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer in south Minneapolis in May 2020.