A disgraced former Pascagoula, Mississippi police officer, Daniel Snyder, 44, was found guilty on May 22, 2014 by jury of a felony hit and run that took place on February 22, 2013 that resulted in the death of 16-year-old Kaytlynn Brann on February 23, 2013.
Police reports and courtroom testimony indicate Brann was walking down a country road with friend Sarah Guy when she was struck at approximately 6:40 p.m by Snyder's 2010 Chevy pickup truck. The force of contact threw Brann's body 83 feet from the original point of impact. According to forensic pathologist Dr. Paul McGarry, Brann suffered a long list of injuries including a fractured left arm and left thigh, displaced kidneys, a torn spleen which caused massive internal bleeding, and tearing and bruising of the brain.
At the time of the accident Snyder was on voluntary leave from the department due to the recent death of a family member.
It is not in dispute that Snyder left the scene of the accident. Snyder claimed he did not know he hit a person, but then why did he call 911 two minutes after hitting Brann? According to gulflive.com, prosecutors laid out this timeline of events:
Snyder hit the girl, stopped, exited his vehicle, walked over to where the teen had landed in a ditch, stared down at her for a period of time, then returned to his truck and left before officers arrived.
Missing from that statement is after hitting Brann and initially stopping his vehicle, Snyder called 911 twice at 6:42 and 6:43. Both calls were brief, and Snyder did not identify himself nor did he identify that he was a police officer. Snyder's defense said the calls were short because his cellphone disconnected, twice. He did not attempt a third call. Then he climbed out of his vehicle where a neighbor, Corry Bialato, identified Snyder at the scene. Bialato said Snyder said, "I can't believe this is happening." The mortally wounded Brann also identified Snyder at the scene. Assistant Attorney Cherie Wade recounted in the courtroom the scene and Brann's words, some of which were her last:
As Brann gasped for air in a ditch that night, she said, Snyder stood at the roadside and said "I can't believe this is happening. This is going to mess things up." He then left the scene, she said.
After seeing the dying girl in the ditch Snyder stepped back into his truck and drove away. He returned 15 minutes later after paramedics and law enforcement arrived on the scene. Snyder admitted to several officers that he hit Brann. When Snyder was asked why he fled Snyder said he was unaware of what he had specifically hit. He repeated variations of this statement to multiple officers, but if he was unaware he hit a person why did he call 911? The official record shows Snyder called 911 before making visual contact of Brann laying dying in a ditch. Snyder's cover story was poorly thought out, and was mostly meant to disguise the fact that he had been drinking. He admitted as such claiming he had a 'few' beers to Deputy Jonathan Ramsey. When asked by Ramsey to take a breathalyzer, Snyder was reluctant before agreeing. Snyder allegedly 'frustrated' the deputy with his attempted manipulation of the test. Ramsey's testimony stated:
The first few times I administered the test, I noticed Snyder would blow through his teeth or the side of his mouth. I kind of got frustrated. I felt he knew what to do, and he wasn't doing it.
Snyder's attempts to stall only went so far, and at 8:00 p.m. a proper sample showed he had alcohol in his system. He was then transported to the sheriff's office for the purpose of using the Intoxilyzer 8000, a machine which provides more stable and accurate results than a handheld device. Snyder arrived at approximately 8:35 p.m. and immediately refused to comply with further testing. This required the sheriff's office to obtain a warrant to take a sample of blood from Snyder, which took several hours. After meeting with a judge at a gas station, in the rain, a warrant was obtained and a sample of Snyder's blood was taken against his will at 11:55 p.m.
At this point, even after a breathalyzer indicated he was intoxicated, Snyder was released from custody. He was not charged with any crime. The following afternoon, Kaytlynn Brann's condition worsened and her family made the decision to take her off of life support. Snyder, on the other hand, according the local reporting of wlox.com on April 10, 2013, went back to work:
the officer is back working at the Pascagoula Police Department doing in-house administrative duties.
He did take several days off of personal leave after the accident.
Almost two months after Brann's death Snyder was still working for the department, and had yet to be charged. Why? Apparently the blood test results took an exceptionally long time to process. A police officer was accused of drunk driving and it took the state over two months to process the results? In the meantime Snyder's lawyers were able to present an indelible defense in public. On April 11, 2013 Snyder's lawyer, Keith Miller, released a statement which said:
We have completed an extensive investigation on our part and we have found nothing to indicate (Snyder) was impaired or under the influence in any way at the time the accident occurred.
An extensive investigation? The very next line states:
Neither Snyder's attorneys nor the Jackson County District Attorney's Office say they have seen the results of a toxicology report on Snyder's blood sample sent to the State Crime Lab.
The investigation was so extensive the defense didn't need to see the evidence against their client! Snyder's lawyer's posturing aside, this point demands stressing. Typically a person with alcohol in their blood is immediately arrested and their driving privileges revoked. Common citizens are not granted the benefit of the doubt when evidence is available at the scene which indicates guilt, and this is to not include the tiny fact that a young woman was now dead. Snyder, rather than being arrested, kept his job and went back to work as if nothing happened.
We had multiple witnesses that had to be interviewed
It takes two months to interview less than a dozen people? Worry not, said Sheriff Byrd:
we are going to present this to the grand jury in the first part of May
The month of May came and went. There were no grand jury deliberations. This time delay, understandably, had Brann's family declaring their daughter's death was in the process of being covered-up. On the 30th of May, Brann's father, Keith Brann, said:
I'm afraid of it becoming a cover-up. That's what I'm afraid of.
Brann's mother, Kristen Brann, also spoke out:
He (an investigator) told us that the man had left the scene. He came back 16 minutes later. That he refused to blow, then 45 minutes later he did blow positive, and four hours later they did a blood draw. That he would be arrested and he would stay in jail until Monday morning. He would bond out and then we found out the next day that that was not, in fact, true.
On July 3, 2013 Snyder was indicted by a grand jury in the death of Kaytlynn Brann. Rather than be charged with vehicular manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, aggrevated manslaughter, or a litany of other possibilities Snyder was charged with fleeing the scene. He was also not charged with driving under the influence, even though he had alcohol in his system. Snyder's lawyer said:
I can assume based on the charge of leaving the scene of an accident that the toxicology report was favorable to our client.
Mr. Miller assumes? Brann died on February 23, and in the middle of Summer the toxicology reports still hadn't been released to interested parties even though the sheriff had them in his possession since early April.
Sheriff Byrd, after commenting on the depth and length of the investigation two months prior, again reiterated his talking point:
This case took a longtime to investigate because of the multiple witnesses and crime lab results.
The main witness, Kaytlynn Brann, in some of her last words spoken identified Snyder as the culprit. The words she claimed he said were corroborated by another witness at the scene. Snyder admitted to hitting Brann, and to fleeing the scene. Byrd confirmed he had the results in April, and likely had them much sooner than that. Unless one believes that the moment the results arrived, Byrd came public? Were these the tenets of a case which required a five month investigation merely to bring charges?
On the same day of the indictment, Snyder was arrested, processed, and bonded out of custody for the princely sum of $7,500. After officially being charged Snyder was placed on administrative leave, without pay, from the Pascagoula police department.
Following a series of legal manipulations Snyder's trial date was officially set for May 19, 2014. It wasn't until May 2, 2014 that it was acknowledged that Snyder did have alcohol in his system, at a rate of .06 %. To be considered legally drunk in Mississippi one must have .08% alcohol in their blood. This sample was taken almost 5 full hours after the accident. An employee of the crime lab which processed Snyder's blood, Emily Jochimsen Harper, said:
Most people eliminate between 0.015 to 0.020 per hour, and the average alcohol elimination rate is 0.018 per hour.
Using a process called retrograde extrapolation Harper was able to deduce that Snyder's blood alcohol content, at the time of the accident, would have been around 0.16%. That is double the legal limit. Despite this information Snyder was never charged with anything alcohol related, and the jury was only allowed to consider the possibility that Snyder was drunk to prove a motive for fleeing the scene. Snyder being actually drunk was not part of the official record.
Snyder was found unanimously guilty by a jury that took three hours to deliberate. He is slated to be sentenced June 20th. Despite being found guilty, Snyder remains out on bail.
Consider these facts. Because Snyder fled the scene he gave the prosecution the option to charge him with a variation of manslaughter, or fleeing the scene. Jackson County Patrol Deputy Lance Eubanks testified against Snyder on the second day of his trail claiming Snyder said:
he should have just left the scene of the crime like everybody else in Mississippi.
Ironically had Snyder fled and not turned around, he likely would have never been charged or convicted. A vehicular manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, but a maximum penalty for fleeing the scene is only 20 years. By fleeing the scene Snyder automatically shaved five years off of his potential sentence. Snyder refused a breathalyzer at the sheriff's station, knowing it was late and that a warrant would be difficult to acquire. After waiting for several hours, his blood was taken and that sample showed his blood alcohol content was under the legal limit. The process of retrograde extrapolation is typically disallowed in a courtroom, as all results are merely estimates and not verifiable facts. Snyder knew this and used the system to his advantage. The time which it took to complete the investigation, and trial, would also indicate to the eye of a layman that Snyder's colleagues pulled strings. Five months after being drunk and hitting and killing a teen girl, he was indicted?
Let's have a look at similar cases when the driver was not a police officer:
Duan John SR was driving drunk when he drove his truck into a Mississippi creek, killing his five children and friend who was a passenger. John was arrested at the scene.
Sawyer Tomas Steede was driving drunk in a Mississppi McDonald's parking lot, when he put his vehicle in reverse and ran over a curb. This threw passengers in the cab onto the pavement, and Steede's vehicle ran over his friend causing their death. Steede was arrested at the scene.
Tiffini Martin was driving drunk when she hit another vehicle head on, killing the vehicle's passenger. Martin was arrested at the scene.
Now let's have a look at what happens when the child of a Mississippi police officer is killed by a drunk driver:
Darrell Blappert JR was driving drunk when he hit and killed a Mississippi police chief's daughter. Blappert was arrested at the scene and a $1 million bond was set. Quite a far cry from Mr. Snyder's $7,500 bail, no?
Taken separate these points and facts may seem innocuous, but taken together with Daniel Snyder's sentencing now less than a month away who actually believes his punishment will amount to little more than a slap on the wrist?
Lou Colagiovanni is the National Crime & Courts journalist for Examiner.com. He is the editor of Ruthless-politics.com, and We survived Bush. You will survive Obama. He is also a political columnist and consultant. In his spare time Lou writes restaurant reviews in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. His work has been published on thousands of websites across the Internet. Lou is regularly featured on television and radio. You may contact Lou at firstname.lastname@example.org.