Man sentenced on officer assault charges from I-81 chase
WOODSTOCK — A Washington, D.C., man was sentenced on Friday to serve over six years imprisonment after he led state and local police on a multi-county chase in April 2016.
Brandon Deshawn McClaney, 32, pleaded guilty in August to several charges stemming from the 45-minute high-speed chase on Interstate 81 where he narrowly avoided hitting Capt. Wes Dellinger with the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office. McClaney was originally charged with attempted capital murder of an officer, but that charge was reduced to causing malicious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer as part of the plea agreement.
McClaney entered an Alford guilty plea to that charge, maintaining his innocence but pleading guilty because it was to his benefit as part of the plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to assault and battery of a law enforcement officer, felony eluding police, failing to stop at the scene of an accident and two counts of reckless driving – one for speeding and one for behavior.
After an argument with his then-girlfriend over another man, McClaney started driving from Washington, D.C., to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he is originally from, to go back to his family, McClaney’s attorney and Assistant Public Defender Peter McDermott explained during Friday’s sentencing hearing. McClaney had taken her 2011 Mazda CX-7 for the drive on the rainy morning of April 23, 2016, and she reported the vehicle as stolen by an unauthorized user.
State troopers were advised to be on the lookout for the vehicle, and McClaney was seen driving the car at the 280-mile marker on Interstate 81. A trooper followed McClaney, who exited onto Stony Creek Road in Edinburg. McClaney pulled over at the trooper’s request, but after the trooper exited his car to approach, McClaney sped off, initiating what became a 32-mile high speed chase.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley played two different dashboard camera videos of the chase at Friday’s hearing that showed different perspectives of the incident. She noted that once McClaney was back on Interstate 81, he began using the crossovers to turn around and avoid the state police chasing him. When they tried to surround McClaney, he hit the side of one trooper’s car to open a path to escape, Wiseley explained. Shenandoah County deputies were blocking the entrances to the interstate to decrease the amount of traffic.
Dellinger was called to assist in the chase, and was standing in a crossover in the process of deploying spike strips to stop McClaney when McClaney turned into the crossover, the video shows. Dellinger jumped to his left to avoid McClaney, and McClaney hit the side of Dellinger’s vehicle before turning around on the interstate. McClaney pulled over shortly after he almost hit Dellinger, and the video shows the troopers with guns drawn screaming their orders to McClaney to keep his hands where they could see.
After McClaney was taken into custody, his attorney noted, McClaney was cooperative and polite to the officers involved in his arrest. As for why he tried to get away from the troopers, Wiseley explained that McClaney told state police in an interview after his arrest, “you know what cops do to black men.” He also said he would have been able to get away from the officers had he been driving a faster car, Wiseley said.
Dellinger testified to the back and knee injuries he sustained when evading McClaney’s car, stating that it took about two months to fully recover from it. He explained that everything slowed down as he saw the car approaching him, and he had to make the split-second decision to jump out of the way or he would be crushed between two cars.
“Until that particular day, I never anticipated that today was the day I was going to die,” Dellinger said. “In this profession, we know it’s a risk; that particular day, it was reality.”
McClaney’s family painted a different picture of who the defendant really was. They described him as a role model for the children in their community and church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and that because of him many of the youth were drawn to join. They said that after McClaney’s younger brother was killed in an argument over a woman two years ago, McClaney wanted a fresh start, which prompted the move to Washington, D.C., to live with his uncle. Seeing too many parallels between his brother’s death and the situation with his girlfriend, McClaney just wanted to get away, McDermott said during the hearing.
Everyone who testified on McClaney’s behalf noted that he was not perfect, but he was human and made a mistake that was far out of character for him.
McDermott argued for the mandatory minimum of two years and six months for a mistake McClaney made while simply trying to get away, and that his client never intended to hurt anyone. The prosecution said that the sentencing guidelines, which called for a sentence of six years and seven months at the high end, argued that that would not be enough time. She said that McClaney should serve at least 10 years of active time because of the lives he endangered, and the 4 inches between the gas and the brake pedal could have prevented everything if McClaney simply stopped.
McClaney read a letter he had prepared for Friday’s hearing, where he apologized to Dellinger and Dellinger’s family for the incident. McClaney reiterated that he never intended hurting anyone in the chase, and that he vows to be an upstanding citizen upon his release. Tissues were passed around McClaney’s family as Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp retired to his chambers before delivering his sentence.
Hupp returned around 45 minutes later, and said that this case is not a situation that you could say was simply a mistake because McClaney could have stopped at any time. Hupp said he did not understand how the loss of his brother two years ago would cause McClaney to elude police, and that there was no reason he could see based on McClaney’s history for him to have a fear of law enforcement.
Hupp also acknowledged the highly publicized incidents of police brutality seen across the country as very rare occurrences, and that the vast majority of officers work to uphold the law. He finished by saying that he thought McClaney was a good person who had done a bad thing, and for that he has to be punished.
McClaney was sentenced to a total of 30 years imprisonment and 14 months in jail, and will serve six years and two months of that time. He will be evaluated for anger management treatment, and must complete three years of supervised probation after his release, which will be followed by two years of unsupervised probation. For the damages sustained in the chase, he must also pay about $9,400 in restitution.
McClaney hung his head low as deputies escorted him out of the courtroom, his long hair covering much of his face.