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by Motorcycle.com Staff

MC Chase ends in Riot

By George Obradovich, Jun. 18, 2003
From CNN.com

BENTON HARBOR, Michigan (CNN) -- A deadly motorcycle chase earlier this week hit a nerve in this southwestern Michigan town, sparking two nights of violent protests in which angry residents have set buildings ablaze, fired weapons, and pulled people from cars and beat them, according to local authorities.

A hospital spokeswoman said 10 people were injured in Tuesday night's violence, which lasted into the early hours of Wednesday. Most of injuries were laceration wounds, and at least person was treated for a gunshot wound.

In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, police told reporters the protests were getting worse and authorities plan to declare a citywide curfew later in the day. Michigan's governor has already declared a state of emergency, which allows for the activation of Michigan National Guard troops, if needed.

"It is definitely not a peaceful protest right now, there are people rioting everywhere," WSBT-TV reporter Jennifer Kuk told CNN about 1 a.m. ET. "Benton Harbor Police Chief Samuel Harris ... tells us now this riot has expanded six or eight blocks."

Kuk estimated about 300 protesters were on the streets of Benton Harbor, which is located along the shores of southeastern Lake Michigan.

"They say this is far more violent than what was happening last night," she said.

Motorcyclist crashed into house
The unrest was sparked by a high-speed police chase, which ended early Monday.

Terrance Shurn, 28, of Benton Harbor died when he crashed into an abandoned house after losing control of his motorcycle during a chase that at times reached 100 miles per hour.

After the chase ended, police said they discovered Shurn had a suspended license and a small amount of marijuana on him.

His death sparked outrage from Benton Harbor residents, some of whom have a long list of grievances with the police, and blamed the Benton Township officer chasing Shurn for his death.

Describing the scene as "out of control," Kuk said early Wednesday she could still hear gunshots in the area, although police said they have not fired any bullets or used tear gas, which they have been authorized to use, if necessary.

Police in full riot gear were trying to hold a perimeter around the protesters, and firefighters were still having trouble getting several fires under control.

"It's a real mess," said dispatcher Kintzel with the Michigan State Police. "We have a riot. We're in a state of emergency. There are buildings on fire. There have been gunshots. The crowd has pulled civilians out of cars and beat them."

Residents air grievances
Eight people were taken to Lakeland Regional Hospital in St. Joseph for lacerations and one gunshot wound, and two were taken to Lakeland Hospital in Niles, hospital spokeswoman Laura Sinclair said.

Two of the injured were admitted to the hospital in St. Joseph with laceration wounds, and were listed in serious and fair condition Wednesday morning, Sinclair said. A firefighter was among those treated for laceration wounds, she said.

Over 130 state police were deployed to Benton Harbor, Kintzel said. Benton Harbor police officers and Berrien County Sheriff's Department deputies were also on the scene, and authorities are considering dispatching the National Guard.

Angry residents packed Benton Township's Board of Trustees meeting hall Tuesday night to air their grievances over the chase, and over perceived misconduct by the police department.

They blamed police for three deaths -- including Shurn's -- over the past two years, in the Benton Harbor community.

One resident demanded cameras in the township's police cars.

Police are dismissing accusations that the pursuing officer hit Shurn's motorcycle, causing him to crash.

"The officer from Benton Township ... his actions were lawful, he was pursuing a speeding vehicle that was violating the law," said Benton Harbor Police Chief Harris. "The ending was tragic, but his actions were quite lawful."

Police told local reporters the officer was three blocks behind Shurn when he crashed.

"This incident could have been avoided if one person had stopped and submitted to the arrest, and now the police agencies are being accused of misconduct," Harris said.

Township police to change chase policy
Benton Harbor police have a policy not to engage in high-speed chases, unlike township police. However, Benton Township Police Chief Jimmie Coburn -- who commands 17 police officers -- promised residents he would revise the policy on Wednesday.

"There are some ... things that need to be changed in my [chase] policy and I will change that," Coburn said. "I will do that."

Coburn said he placed Officer Wes Cozer on sick leave but stressed that Cozer was not suspended because of his involvement in Monday's chase.

"He's off because I didn't think he was suited to work," Coburn said.

At least one house was burned to the ground in Monday's violence, and rioters threw bottles, bricks and tree branches at police officers. Three police vehicles were extensively damaged, Harris said.

Reporters and news crews arriving on the scene were also the targets of the attacks.

"The objects hit my news vehicle, both of them shattered, I believe they might have been bottles of some kind," according to a photographer from WNDU-TV. "I saw all kinds of stuff going down last night.

"The police ... were scared to even get out of their cars."

A reporter for WSJM Radio said he was hit in the head with a bottle after getting out of his car, possibly because he was mistaken for a plainclothes police officer.
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