PINEVILLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Pineville Police Chief Michael Hudgins said several department reforms resulted from a near-fatal incident involving a suspect in a police car in July.
Morgan Johnson, 27, escaped from her handcuffs and jumped out of a moving police car on Interstate 485 on July 17. Johnson suffered injuries as a result of her jump.
Hudgins and Capt. Corey Copley spoke on Tuesday via Facebook about the incident.
Hudgins called the incident “tragic.” When he learned about the incident, Hudgins ordered an internal review.
On Tuesday, he said the department had taken several steps since July.
He said the department revised its prisoner transport policy and in-car camera policies. There’s also a full-time officer manual revision under review. He added that a monthly equipment inspection is now subject to the police captain’s review.
The investigation resulted in disabled rear window controls for all Pineville police cars. Also, Hudgins said a vendor is in the process of installing bars over the rear windows of Pineville police cars. Finally, all officers are now trained in CPR and de-escalation methods.
Now, Hudgins said all suspects would be placed in a particular seat in the cruiser and strapped into seatbelts. Police will also search a vehicle before and after transport according to policy. Finally, the department purchased Lexipol, a software program that Hudgins said would help his officers with training and procedures.
Johnson jumped out of the car
Police arrested Johnson after an early-morning domestic dispute at the Willow Ridge Apartments that July morning. She was soon after arrested for simple assault.
“After processing at the Pineville Police Department,” Hudgins said. “She was handcuffed behind her back and placed in a drivers-side rear seat of a shielded marked police vehicle.”
During transport to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson slipped out of her handcuffs near the I-485/I-77 interchange, jumped through the car window, and onto the interstate.
At the time, the police car did not have bars over the windows. The vehicle had back window locks, but they were not locked. Hudgins said the back door was locked ‘as far as we can tell.’
“She’s a petite lady,” Hudgins said. “Handcuffs are not 100 percent infallible.”
The chief said the window lock could have been left unlocked or accidentally unlocked without anyone knowing it.
Johnson jumped from the moving car before the Pineville officer could stop it. He heard her getting out of the handcuffs but couldn’t stop the car fast enough before she escaped. Hudgins said Johnson hit the asphalt and became unconscious but breathing. The officer radioed for help, and two other officers arrived to help.
He stopped the car and used life-saving measures to keep her alive before medics arrived.
Escape not on camera
Hudgins also said that while the officer’s body and front seat cameras were operational, the back seat camera did not function. No camera recorded Johnson’s escape and car exit that day.
Hudgins did not give Johnson’s condition but explained she was living out of state with her mother. The chief also said that the arresting officer was not put on leave after the incident. The men said that the officer was “doing ok” and that they “offered him stuff” in terms of emotional support if he needed it.
The officers expressed their sympathies for Johnson and her family.
“Many of us in this department are parents, and the thought of harm coming to any parent’s child is heart-wrenching,” Hudgins said. “We reached out to Ms. Johnson’s mother and significant other. We followed up with them. We prayed for them, and we prayed over Ms. Johnson. We pray and hope Ms. Johnson has a full recovery from the injuries she suffered that day. We pray her family has peace.”