Brighton officer in police chase in which two people died is cleared of criminal charges

A review by the Adams County District Attorney’s Office of a police chase in Brighton in which the fleeing suspect allegedly killed two people clears the officer of any criminal wrongdoing in the incident.

On Oct. 26, 2021, the driver of a stolen vehicle, eluding Brighton officers, ran a stop sign and hit another car, killing a passenger, before hitting a pedestrian who also died at a local hospital, according to police and the review.

On Thursday, in a decision letter on the police chase addressed to Brighton Chief Paul Southard, District Attorney Brian Mason found no legal basis for a criminal case against the officer, identified as Charles Hundley.

Mason did, however, find Hundley’s “decision to engage in this high-speed chase deeply troubling,” according to the decision letter. “While officer Hundley’s pursuit was not the proximate cause of the ensuing fatal crash, the significant safety risk inherent in the decision to pursue should have outweighed the legitimate interest in tracking down the subject for his alleged crimes. Indeed, under the circumstances presented here, I believe the officer’s decision to engage in the high-speed chase was unnecessarily dangerous and a disproportionate response to the alleged criminal activity and potential risk posed by the suspect.”

The pursuit lasted about two minutes and the suspect, Nicholas Villarini, 27, was seriously injured in the incident, as was a 25-year-old woman in the the 2011 Kia Sorento sport utility vehicle allegedly driven by the suspect.

Villarini currently faces multiple criminal charges in an ongoing case in Adams County District Court in connection to the two fatal crashes, including two counts of first-degree murder with extreme indifference, and vehicular eluding with death.

Hundley told investigators he pursued the suspect, with overhead lights and siren on, after the Kia struck another police vehicle, described on the police radio as being “rammed,” at the initial encounter in the incident.

“Officer Hundley stated that he engaged in the pursuit because the driver of the Kia demonstrated an escalation of violent behavior by intentionally striking another police vehicle,” the decision letter said. He also said he wanted to stop the suspect, who was driving erratically and presented a “grave danger” to the public.

“Just prior to the collision, Officer Hundley advised that he heard someone on the radio advise to discontinue the pursuit,” the decision letter said. By the time he processed this information, “the collision occurred.”

“Considering all of the evidence, the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Hundley drove his vehicle in such a manner as to suggest a willful disregard for the safety of others, or that his driving was careless or imprudent,” the decision letter said. “Furthermore, the evidence supports a conclusion that the proximate cause of the collision was the erratic driving of the Kia, which was independent of Officer Hundley’s decision to pursue the vehicle. While it can be said that the erratic driving might not have occurred but for Officer Hundley’s pursuit, it cannot be said that Officer Hundley’s driving was a cause without which the collision would not have occurred.

“Therefore, applying the facts of this incident to the applicable law, the evidence does not support the filing of any criminal charges against Officer Hundley.”

The independent investigation and review is not intended to take the place of an internal affairs investigation by police, the decision letter said. The DA’s review does not evaluate compliance with any departmental policies, standards, or procedures.

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