For the first time, the family of a former Minneapolis police officer who pled guilty to criminal vehicular homicide for a crash that happened during a high-speed chase is sharing their story.
Brian Cummings’ mother-in-law spoke exclusively to Alpha News about her loss of faith in the justice system and in the political party she was once endorsed by as a candidate herself.
“I think it’s a terrifying time to be in law enforcement. I can’t imagine now why anyone would enter, I really can’t,” Ann Berget said.
Berget described her son-in-law as a “very reserved young man.”
“He’s a very industrious guy always doing something. He’s thoughtful and he’s generous,” Berget added.
She also said he very much enjoyed being a police officer in the city of Minneapolis for nearly 15 years.
“For the last couple of years and the night of the accident, Brian was patrolling with his partner, Odin the dog,” Berget recalled as Cummings was a K9 officer.
She vividly remembers the hours leading up to the July 6, 2021, incident, when Cummings was out on patrol and pulled over to greet his family on the side of the road.
“As he passed by in the squad car, the kids squealed, and he beeped at them. There was this moment as the sun was setting, everyone is talking. It was a lovely moment. The kids were excited and proud to see their dad in his uniform with the dog and Brian was proud of what he was doing. That was the last day it was ever going to be like that,” she said.
“I suppose if you’re in law enforcement or have someone close to you who is, it must be in the back of your mind all the time to worry at least a little bit. I remember it very clearly because it was such a delightful, happy moment. Then, everything changed,” Berget said.
Later in his shift, Officer Cummings spotted a stolen black Kia used in multiple business robberies around Minneapolis. Employees in small businesses were assaulted before money in their registers was stolen.
In a statement, Cummings told Alpha News he knew the vehicle was “reported stolen” and whoever was inside was listed as “armed and dangerous.”
Eventually, investigators would connect that Kia driver, James Jones-Drain, to five violent crimes that night.
Documents say that for 20 blocks, the driver refused to pull over, going nearly 100 miles per hour as Cummings chased with his lights and sirens on. Cummings eventually ran a red light and collided with Leneal Frazier at a North Minneapolis intersection at 78 miles per hour. Frazier died at the scene. He was driving on a suspended license.
MPD said Cummings was following the department’s policy on pursuits when the crash happened.
“He’s put on suspension with pay, presumably as an investigation takes place, but that’s a very long time for something like that to remain pending. We were also really puzzled that there was no attempt to track down the person who had precipitated this whole incident. It was known who the person was, the vehicle was known and identified and as far as we knew, no one went looking for it. Once the accident took place, no one looked for the wrongdoer who set it all in motion. This guy was pretty experienced at what he was doing, and no one went looking for him,” Berget said.
Nearly four months later, and days before Minneapolis voters would head to the polls to decide whether to defund the police department, former Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced a press conference.
“He announced that he, not a grand jury, but he was charging Brian with criminal vehicular homicide and second-degree manslaughter. One of the media people who was there pressed back and said, ‘Well, the statements indicated it was a policy-compliant pursuit,’ and Freeman said that he would charge Brian no matter what. Even at that moment I wondered, why now? And why like this? I couldn’t help but think there was a bigger political element than there ever should be in something like that, and I’ve never gotten rid of that thought,” Berget said.
What happened next dragged on for nearly two years: a guilty plea to criminal vehicular homicide from Cummings, a sentence of several months in the workhouse, an ankle bracelet, three years’ probation, and the loss of his driver’s license for a decade.
Cummings told Alpha News he felt he had no choice but to take the plea deal, believing he couldn’t get a “fair trial” after all that’s happened in Hennepin County. Taking the deal, he said, was “the safest way to navigate through while trying to limit the impacts on my family.”
“At this point I don’t think a lot of people feel a lot of confidence in the decisions that are being made. A lot of the blame gets put on the police by people who don’t understand what roles the judges and prosecutors have in these things,” Berget added.
“I think fear is driving a great deal of the officers in Minneapolis. They see their own people have been scapegoated when they’ve been doing their jobs to the best of their ability to their thoughtful beliefs and training. There doesn’t seem to be anything solid beneath them or behind them,” Berget said.
More than a year and a half after the chase, Jones-Drain was finally arrested.
“They finally charged him and then went looking for him. As I understand it, he wasn’t too hard to find. He was hanging out in North Minneapolis. I think it’s a good thing he’s been off the streets since then, but I don’t understand why it took that long to decide to arrest him,” Berget said.
Shockingly, in August, the new Hennepin County attorney, Mary Moriarty, dismissed the felony charges against Jones-Drain of fleeing police in a motor vehicle that results in death, theft of a motor vehicle and theft of property.
“He thought getting people like James Jones-Drain off the street was a very important job. To get him off the street was a contribution to make to all the rest of us. Because as long as someone like that is out there with no consequences, we are all a little less safe,” Berget said.
“Why would you put your own life, your reputation, your job, your family — everything — your freedom on the line, when no matter how well you’ve done your work, you send it off to Hennepin County and they dismiss your charges,” Berget added.
Cummings attorney, Tom Plunkett, issued the following statement after charges against Jones-Drain were dismissed:
“Mr. Cummings risked his life many times to protect people. He sits in jail. Mr. Jones-Drain, a gun-toting thief, who bears responsibility for the death of Leneal Frasier, and stole from the innocent gets a break? Minneapolis is a better place to be a criminal than a law enforcement officer.”
“Here’s the interesting thing about Mary Moriarty who seems to be very oriented to those who are charged: she’s very uncomfortable charging anybody except police officers. That same mindset doesn’t look at Brian’s situation and see someone who was following the rules, who was serious, who was careful as one can be, under the circumstances,” Berget said.
Berget is a twice-endorsed DFL candidate who served on the Minneapolis school board in the ‘90s. She says she feels left behind by a political party she once believed in and in a city she’s called home for more than 50 years.
Her son-in-law is now forced to bike his kids to school, starting over after what his family calls an accident.
“This was an accident. It was an accident. This is not to disrespect the death of someone uninvolved that is tragic. But it wasn’t a crime. It was a tragic accident,” Berget said.