A Baton Rouge, Louisiana cop is not being charged for a car accident he caused while speeding. The accident, which occurred in 2017, resulted in the death of an infant child and the injury of several other people.
Christopher Manuel was arrested on negligent homicide charges after the crash, which occurred while he was off-duty and driving his personal vehicle — an orange Corvette. Manuel was going 94 mph on Airline Highway – almost twice the legal speed limit.
The child’s mother, Brittany Stephens, was also arrested on the same charges as the officer after detectives determined the infant had not been properly strapped in.
The case gained national attention and public outcry as many defended the mother. Criminal justice experts condemned the decision of police to arrest her and questioned law enforcement’s motives.
Police defended their decision by saying the mother did not secure her daughter’s car seat properly but instead placed the car seat on the SUV’s center console between the two front seats. The child was ejected from the car during the crash.
Manuel was assigned desk duty after the crash and is still awaiting a resolution from the internal affairs department, which couldn’t happen until after the prosecutor’s decision.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Tuesday his office decided not to bring charges against either Manuel or Stephens, reasoning that both had contributed to the tragic outcome even though “one suffered a bigger loss.”
“It becomes a conundrum of ‘Who’s at fault?'” Moore said. “Do you really want to charge the mom with her child’s death? Of course not. Which act truly caused the death, speeding or lack of proper restraint? Is one more culpable than the other? We couldn’t really determine that based on the facts of the case and what the law requires.”
Marcus Allen, an attorney representing Stephens, said at the least Manuel should have been given a speeding ticket.
“How can you overlook the glaring fact that he was going almost 100 mph?” Allen said. “You just cannot operate a vehicle that fast. For him to walk away from this with no criminal charges … it almost appears he’s above the law.”
The crash occurred in October 2017 when Stephens made a left turn in her SUV while Manuel was traveling towards her at an estimated 94 mph. Both drivers had a green light. Investigators initially questioned whether Stephens failed to properly yield to oncoming Manuel but later concluded that Manuel’s excessive speed would have made it almost impossible to accurately judge the turn.
Three other children – ages 7,9 and 15 – were also injured and hospitalized for months due to the crash. The children suffered serious broken bones and internal injuries, according to the complaint. The oldest is wheelchair-bound and has suffered “permanent physical deformities and scarring” in addition to diminished cognitive abilities that have prevented her from returning to school. Her medical bills totaled more than $700,000 when the complaint was filed in 2018.
Manuel, who was also hospitalized after the crash, filed his own civil suit, alleging that Stephens was unlicensed and caused the crash when she turned “suddenly and without warning” into his lane.
A pre-disciplinary hearing for Manuel is expected in the near future. The chief will then decide whether the officer will face discipline, which could end with a suspension, demotion or termination.