A Jackson County sheriff’s deputy who crashed into a motorist while speeding through a red light without warning pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor charge.
Deputy Sean Stoff, 34, was charged earlier this month with misdemeanor careless and imprudent driving in the 2018 crash that injured Christopher Reed, 30, of Raytown. Reed was thrown from his car by the impact and suffered extensive head injuries, a spinal injury and a broken clavicle.
Experts who viewed dash cam video of the crash told The Star that Stoff was clearly responsible for the wreck and likely violated the department’s pursuit policy.
Stoff is still an employee with the sheriff’s office, which he joined in May 2014. He and his attorney declined to comment after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
He was given a suspended sentence of one year in jail, placed on a year of unsupervised probation and will be required to perform 40 hours of community service. He will also be required to attend traffic school at his own expense.
Stoff’s county-issued vehicle plowed into Reed’s 1989 Chevrolet Caprice while chasing another car.
In a victim’s impact statement read in court before Circuit Judge Twila K. Rigby, Reed said he still suffers from affects of the wreck. Reed said prior to the crash, he owned an auto business and worked more than 50 hours a week.
“Now I can’t concentrate. I can’t remember simple things like what I’m doing, where I’m going, people’s names and faces, and where I parked my car,” Reed said. “Our entire life has been turned upside down.”
Reed continued: “I hope that reckless drivers are held accountable no matter their job title, or who they are so no one else has to suffer like my family and I have suffered. The wreck always feel like it was yesterday to my family. I hope someday we can move on and move past this. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else.”
Stoff and his attorney, Molly Hastings, declined to comment following the sentencing.
In a Facebook post after Stoff was charged, Forté said he became concerned last year about the department’s vehicle pursuit policy established months before he was elected, a worry shared by members of his office. Forté previously was chief of the Kansas City Police Department, which has a stricter policy.
Since the 1990s, law enforcement agencies across the country, including Kansas City police, have restricted dangerous chases to situations where the occupants have been involved in a violent felony or there is an immediate danger to the public.
But a number of police departments in the Kansas City area still allow officers to chase at high speeds for any infraction. And in the decade before 2015, there were more than 700 pursuit-related crashes in the metro area, The Star previously reported.
Forté suspended pursuits pending a policy review, he said.
After a review in March, commanders and deputies discussed ways to make pursuits safer, the sheriff said. The sheriff’s office established what Forté called a restrictive vehicle pursuit policy April 13.
The policy was changed to include guidelines that specify when deputies can initiate a chase.
But police chase experts interviewed by The Star said it was likely Stoff violated the policy regardless of the recent changes.
The chase that injured Reed and led to the charge against Stoff began May 9, 2018, when another deputy pursued a tan Buick because it had a damaged taillight and a search of its license plate showed an association with an active warrant in a missing person case, according to reports from the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Reed was making a left turn with a green light when the deputy hit his car about 1:35 a.m. at Missouri 350 and Maple Street in Raytown. Stoff was traveling 71 mph in a 45 mph zone after the chase was officially taken off an emergency status.
Reed’s mother was following her son just before the crash. She can be seen in the dash cam video frantically searching for Reed in his car before realizing he was thrown to the other side of the street, severely injured.
Stoff was also injured in the wreck but was soon released from a hospital.
Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said the regulatory program responsible for licensing peace officers was aware of the wreck.
The department’s director does not have the discretion to suspend or revoke an officer’s license by herself. That process involves a standards and training investigation that is brought to the Missouri Attorney General’s office. A complaint may then be filed with an administrative commission, which would conduct a hearing to determine if the director, Sandy Karsten, has cause to discipline.