The only crime Dallas police saw Fred Bradford Jr. commit when they came upon him on the night of April 21 was failure to wear a bike helmet. But, judging by the way he lurked next to the black sedan parked in the alley behind Kwick Stop Liquor in South Dallas, they suspected he might have something more felonious in mind.
Those suspicions seemed justified when the 51-year-old Bradford, spotting the blue-and-red flash of lights, began pedaling away despite shouted orders to stop. One of the police officers, Michael Puckett, gave chase on foot. The other, Bryan Burgess, followed in the squad car.
That decision turned out to be fatal. After tailing him for a couple of blocks, onto the southbound service road of Julius Schepps Freeway and onto a grassy median, the cop car hit the bike, crushing Bradford beneath its wheels. Bradford was taken to Baylor where he died three weeks later from damage to his ribs, lungs, back and internal organs.
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The chase itself was a violation of DPD policy, which allows vehicular pursuits only when there is probable cause to believe a violent felony has been or will be committed, but its tragic end has all the hallmarks of being an accident.
Not so, argues Virginia Bradford, Bradford's mother. In a lawsuit filed last week in Dallas County, she says that Burgess deliberately ran down her son with a sense of malice that "shocks the conscience."
Her legal claim goes a bit deeper than that, of course. She's suing Burgess for "unconstitutional seizure and the unconstitutional use of excessive and deadly force." She suing Puckett for failing to stop his partner from the chase. She's suing DPD and Chief David Brown for hiring somebody who would run over a bicyclist and for failing to train their officers not to do that. She also claims that Dallas police, despite their written rule to the contrary, have a de facto policy encouraging officers to chase bicyclists in their cars without probable cause.
Virginia Bradford is asking the court to award at least $1 million, though she'd probably settle for having her son back.