EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio – Jamie Sowell was driving to his girlfriend’s house earlier this year when East Cleveland police attempted to have him arrested. But he refused because of what he admitted to be a long history of distrust of law enforcement.
Sowell, 44, didn’t stop when officers activated their lights and sirens near Superior and Euclid Avenues. He admits he had been drinking that night and was driving without a license. But he said the main reason he decided to continue driving was that it was shortly after 1 a.m. and he didn’t trust the police, including those in East Cleveland.
The Cleveland resident instead continued to drive, eventually accelerating to 90 mph with officers chasing him. Police later told him he crashed his truck, although no accidents were reported in a police report on the incident.
Sowell got out of the truck and fled. He said Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer which he decided to run because he didn’t want to have an encounter with the police, because he feared it would turn violent. He thought of previous incidents of police violence across the United States, such as the murder of George Floyd by an officer in Minneapolis.
While Sowell admits he fled the traffic stop, he doesn’t think the East Cleveland officers should have been chasing him like they did that night. He does not believe that a minor traffic violation warranted a high speed chase through town.
“It was petty, I did not commit [violent] crime, I wasn’t stealing from anyone, had no guns or was running with a gang, ”Sowell said. “I know driving without a license is illegal, but I have to go to job interviews.”
Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer analyzed 105 police chases in East Cleveland in the first 120 days of 2021. Find all of our stories – including about the city’s financial distress, the demographics of the police department, and the law that was supposed to end wildcat chases – here.
Sowell was one of several drivers ready to be asked about their experience.
Four officers – John Hartman, Craig Beese, Kalin Berry and Andrew Majercik – appear on the police report regarding Sowell’s pursuit. The report states that Sowell “delayed the officer’s performance to discover that the driver had an active felony warrant while operating the vehicle, in order to flee or voluntarily escape the officer.”
On April 1, the Cleveland Police Department issued an arrest warrant for Sowell in a domestic violence case, according to Cleveland City Court records. He was then charged with two counts of domestic violence, and his case is still pending before the Cuyahoga County Common Plea Court.
The report also states that Sowell “willfully prevented, hindered or delayed the performance of the officer.”
Sowell said he still didn’t know why officers triggered the traffic stop. However, East Cleveland City Court records show he is charged with disobeying a traffic control device, driving with a suspended license and violating his license plate. His case is ongoing.
After Sowell was taken to East Cleveland Jail, he called his lawyer and was eventually released from jail. He had to pay legal fees as well as $ 2,000 to get his truck out of the impound.
Sowell said he believed encounters with police could have a devastating effect on many people.
“I know there is a lot of crime in the area, but most people have families to take care of and the police come and lock people up for trivial things,” he said. “Most of the time, they come to hunt and it’s a family with $ 1,100 saved between them. Now they have to post a bond or get the car back, and now the family is fighting and falling apart. “
The chase wasn’t Sowell’s first encounter with police, but he said he had been avoiding trouble for more than five years.
Sowell said one of his first encounters with police was when he was 17. He has been charged with assaulting a police officer, theft and resisting arrest following an incident at the Tower City movie theater in downtown Cleveland, court records show.
Sowell, however, says there is more to the story. He said the incident happened after an officer in plain clothes told him to pull up his pants, and he refused.
“I told him to get out of my face and pushed him away,” Sowell said. “The next thing I know is that I was criticized by the policeman and accused of assaulting him.”
Sowell also spent five years in prison for criminal assault and domestic violence. He was sentenced to five years in prison and was released on April 23, 2016.
Sowell said he had a difficult upbringing in poverty. He doesn’t think the police understand the traumatic experiences some people face.
Sowell said he has been trying to change his life since being released from prison in 2016, but it has been difficult. The typical work rate for a temp agency is around $ 8.15 an hour, and most jobs involve physical labor such as operating machinery and working on a garbage truck, Sowell said. .
His criminal record does not help matters, he said.
“The temp agencies are using the crimes as leverage against you,” Sowell said.
Sowell, however, remains positive. He said he hoped to make his mother proud by getting her license and building her credit. He wrote a lot of music in prison and his long term goal is to become a music producer.