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BOYNTON BEACH — No charges will be filed against a Boynton Beach Police officer after he followed a teenage dirt-bike rider who crashed and died, the Florida Highway Patrol said on Thursday.
The FHP announced it completed a traffic homicide investigation into the Dec. 26, 2021, crash where Stanley “SJ” Dale Davis III died while fleeing Boynton Beach Police Officer Mark Sohn on Federal Highway.
FHP’s investigation found the teen was driving about 85 mph on a 2022 Honda CRF450R-S dirt bike at the time of the crash and that the officer’s car did not make contact with the bike, the Boynton Beach Police Department said in a statement Thursday. The traffic homicide investigation report said Sohn was driving between 79 and 80 mph.
The speed limit in the area of the crash was 35 mph. No charges will be filed, FHP’s investigation says, “because the at-fault person expired as a result of the crash.”
The statement released by the police department Thursday said FHP’s investigation found that Davis was “unlawfully fleeing an attempted traffic stop initiated by a Boynton Beach police officer.”
A report from the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office says the officer saw Davis riding the dirt bike north on Federal Highway south of Boynton Beach Boulevard and said over radio that he was in pursuit.
The Medical Examiner’s Office report does not identify the officer as Sohn but says the officer later called off the pursuit after Davis ran a red light at Federal Highway and Boynton Beach Road. Three minutes after the officer said he saw Davis riding the dirt bike on Federal Highway, the officer said over radio the teen had crashed, the report says.
The police department’s vehicular pursuit and apprehension policy says officers can pursue only if there is reasonable belief a forcible felony was committed, which includes murder, manslaughter, sexual battery, carjacking, home invasion robbery, robbery, arson, kidnapping, aggravated assault and battery and discharging of a destructive device or bomb.
The policy also says an officer’s decision to pursue must be based on “the pursuing officer’s conclusion that the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the pursuit is less than the immediate or potential danger to the public should the suspect remain at large.”
Davis left his grandmother’s house on Northeast 12th Avenue and traveled less than a mile to a Chevron gas station at 217 N. Federal Highway, the FHP investigative report says.
Video surveillance from the gas station showed Davis driving south in the outside lane of Federal Highway, nearing the intersection of Boynton Beach Boulevard. The video showed him “intentionally doing a wheelie” before driving through the intersection, the report says.
Davis then pulled into the gas station parking lot and walked into the store to pay for gas, the report says. He handed Deondre Brinson a $5 bill, and Brinson would later watch Davis take off from the gas station as Davis realized Sohn was trailing him.
The teen walked into the gas station and told Brinson “that an officer saw him and wasn’t sure if the officer was going to harass him,” the FHP report says. Brinson, while outside the gas station at a nearby pump, heard Davis’ bike stall once he tried to start it.
He told investigators he knew Davis was afraid of the officer once he saw Davis look over his shoulder at Sohn’s car, the record says.
Brinson, 26, attended a rally for the teen outside of the police department on a recent evening. He said he regularly rode dirt bikes with Davis on weekends.
“Truth be told, that’s what hurts me the most because when I was at the gas station that day with SJ, it happened so fast I couldn’t tell him to stay, stop. He was just already terrified,” Brinson told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Once Sohn was in the gas station parking lot, Davis fled toward Boynton Beach Boulevard and drove west, the report says. Sohn then “accelerated” northwest toward Boynton Beach Boulevard and “attempted a traffic stop by activating his emergency lights and sirens.” He also turned on his body-worn camera.
Davis drove west on Boynton Beach Boulevard before making a U-turn into an ACE hardware store parking lot, the report says. Sohn made a U-turn into the same lot and followed Davis onto the east lanes of Boynton Beach Boulevard, and he turned off his lights and sirens but kept his body camera on.
The FHP report says Sohn drove about 351 feet with his lights and sirens on. Davis then turned left at the red light on Boynton Beach Boulevard and Federal Highway and went north on Federal Highway.
As Sohn approached the intersection, he “notified his dispatch via radio,” the report says, and then turned on his emergency lights once more and drove north on Federal Highway.
Sohn drove north on Federal Highway for about 1,000 feet with his lights on before turning them off again. After turning the lights off, he continued driving north for 288 feet before Davis crashed, the report says.
According to the investigative report, body-worn camera showed Sohn was about 608 feet behind Davis when he crashed. The distance Davis traveled from the Chevron to where the crash occurred, near Northeast Eighth Avenue, was just under half a mile.
Internal Affairs investigation
Sohn has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 26, police department records say. On the evening of the crash, Sohn declined to give an FHP investigator a statement.
The investigator asked Sohn to voluntarily give a blood sample to test for any drug or alcohol presence, but Sohn declined, the FHP investigation says. Sohn’s Florida Police Benevolent Association attorney said Sohn would not give a statement during the investigation.
The police department will now start an Internal Affairs investigation to determine whether Sohn violated any policies. No status updates will be given during the investigation, the department’s statement says.
Charges could still be filed, pending the outcome of the Internal Affairs investigation. The outcome could lead to disciplinary actions or charges, according to the department’s statement.
Sohn has a history of pursuit policy violations in his 20 years at the police department, Internal Affairs records show. He had been disciplined three times before for violating that policy, including a one-day without pay suspension for a 2012 pursuit that ended with the death of 38-year-old Cyrus Deal.
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FHP’s traffic homicide investigation into the crash that killed Deal had the same conclusion as Davis’: “no charges will be filed because the at fault person expired as a result of the crash.”
There was no sign that Deal committed a forcible felony or any crime, and the Internal Affairs investigation found, “the decision to continue the pursuit created more of a dangerous situation to the public than if the suspect remained at large.”
Another pursuit Sohn was involved in in February 2016 ended with the death of 5-year-old Jayden Readon, who was walking to a park when Lex Eugene, the driver who Sohn was pursuing, lost control as he turned onto Summit Road, swerved onto the sidewalk and fatally hit Readon.
Sohn was also suspended for a week in 2004 for participating in a pursuit of a stolen car. He allegedly violated 12 different department policies in that pursuit, Internal Affairs records say.
And in July 2010, Sohn was again disciplined for violating the pursuit policy, though the details are unknown because the department no longer has the records.