A Fort Worth police sergeant was “unreasonable and dangerous” during a 2019 high-speed pursuit that left an innocent woman dead, according to a former police officer who reviewed the case.
Gaudencia and Constantino Meza were sitting in their truck at a traffic light on North Main Street at Exchange Street on Sept. 6 when a truck driven by Luis Young III — and being chased by Sgt. Martin Chazarreta — slammed into the back of their vehicle at almost 100 mph.
The collision instantly killed Gaudencia Meza. Her husband was hospitalized and underwent life-saving surgery.
The crash sparked questions from the couple’s family about the Fort Worth Police Department’s pursuit policy, if it had been followed and if it needed to be amended.
In his quest to get answers about what happened that morning, Meza’s son, Cris, hired attorney Jim Baudhuin, who filed a lawsuit against Young and the city of Fort Worth. Cris Meza is a River Oaks police officer.
But last month, Tarrant County District Court Judge Kimberly Fitzpatrick dismissed the lawsuit on grounds she didn’t make clear. Baudhuin said he will appeal Fitzpatrick’s decision and he is confident the court of appeals will take his side.
The judge’s decision made some police reports and depositions public for the first time since the wreck. Those documents include an affidavit by Robert C. Moore III, a former Richland Hills police officer who has been involved in his own pursuits. He reviewed the reports and interviews from the Fort Worth Police Department to give his expert opinion about what happened that afternoon.
“This pursuit should either never have been initiated or it should have been immediately terminated,” Moore wrote. “Young was not suspected of any specific crime and there were no outstanding warrants concerning him.”
Baudhuin said the department has come close to admitting some culpability, but he’s overall disappointed in their response.
“If you read their actual pursuit report, they didn’t want to say, ‘Our guy screwed up,’ but then they talk about ‘Well we talked to the sergeant and he and our other commanders need to be reminded to always weigh the cost versus the benefit, but having said that, we don’t think you did anything wrong,’” Baudhuin said. “You chased a guy 100 mph and you want to tell us that’s reasonable?”
The Fort Worth police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Stockyards pursuit
Officer Benjamin Wright had been getting complaints for several days about a woman burglarizing homes at Sabine Place Apartments, in the 1200 block of Terminal Road, just north of the Stockyards.
The day of the crash, residents at the complex told Wright they saw the woman get inside of a white truck.
Wright found a truck matching that description idled at a nearby gas station at around 10:30 a.m. The officer didn’t have probable cause to stop the driver, so he followed the truck until the driver ran a red light, according to court documents.
After he stopped the driver for a traffic violation, Wright said he walked up to the truck but stayed near the back passenger door because the windows were tinted and he couldn’t see inside. When he knocked on the door, Young opened his own. Young was known to be involved with the woman, who was in the passenger seat.
“He looked back at me and I immediately recognized the driver as Luis Young III,” Wright wrote in a report. “I asked him if he had a driver license and insurance. He said ‘nah.’ I told him that I knew who he was.”
Wright said he just wanted to talk with Young and that he wasn’t under arrest. He knew unrelated burglary arrest warrants were being processed for Young, but didn’t know in that moment if they were completed.
But before they could talk, Young slammed the door and took off. Wright radioed to dispatch that the driver left but he decided against chasing because Young was driving on the wrong side of the road. Baudhuin said it is against policy for officers to chase others against traffic.
At the same time Young turned southbound on North Main, Sgt. Martin Chazarreta (who was nearby) started to pursue him.
Moore wrote in his affidavit that the pursuit lasted 72 seconds, according to a police investigation, which meant the average speed was 90 mph. But Chazarreta testified that the chase lasted only 50 to 60 seconds, which would increase the speed to 108 mph, Moore wrote. That, paired with the time of day and location, made the chase dangerous and Chazarreta should have stopped chasing, Moore said.
Baudhuin said he’s been disappointed at the double speak in the department. Officers said the crash “struck a somber tone” in the department, but responsibility has only been placed on Young.
“The police officer was two or three seconds behind him,” Baudhuin said. “If Young was driving reckless, the officer wasn’t doing great either. Just admit that No. 1, there was no basis to chase the guy and No. 2, you sure as heck don’t chase him down Main Street at 100 miles per hour.”
Officers that day broke about nine department policies, Baudhuin said. Though he doesn’t squarely blame Wright.
“My only criticism of him is he’s listening to the radio and doesn’t say, ‘Hey I know who this guy is,’” Baudhuin said.
If the officer knew who Young was, had his plate number and vehicle description and he wasn’t wanted for a violent crime, then Baudhuin said department policy states no one should have chased after Young.
“Chazzareta made so many assumptions and then the pursuit report blames it on adrenaline, but Chazzareta said he was calm,” Baudhuin said.
The attorney argues that Chazzareta knew his decision to chase Young was dangerous and that in the moment, he was only chasing a man who left a traffic stop. Chazzareta didn’t know if Young had any outstanding warrants.
He testified during a deposition that if it wasn’t a felony stop, he wouldn’t have chased Young. But Assistant Robert Chief Alldredge acknowledged that it wasn’t a felony stop, according to the documents.
While talking with a reporter, Baudhuin said he wanted to make clear that he supports the Fort Worth Police Department and their officers.
“I just think they screwed up,” he said.
Young was charged with murder in Meza’s death. He was convicted in January 2020 and was sentenced to 46 years in prison.