Cleveland Police say officer is not at fault for escape; search continues
CLEVELAND, TN. (WRCB) - The manhunt continues for the man Cleveland police say stole one of their cruisers while handcuffed, and crashed it before running away.
Teams of investigators in Bradley and Hamilton counties are out searching for 29-year-old Charles Masengale.
He's from Chattanooga. He was last spotted Sunday near Mahan Gap Road in Hamilton County. Deputies weren't able to catch him then either. Police say he busted in one home already, and they consider him dangerous.
Channel 3 is learning more about how the whole scene unfolded and if the officer, whose cruiser Masengale is accused of stealing, is facing any consequences.
It started just after 9:00 p.m. Saturday.
Cleveland police say Charles Masengale had just fled the scene of an accident. A cop noticed him driving erratically and tried to pull him over. Masengale led him on a high speed chase, and then crashed again. He was finally arrested, but didn't stick around long.
Cleveland Police Officer J.R. Burnette caught up to Charles Masengale after his crash at Georgetown Road and Westside Drive.
Burnette handcuffed Masengale and locked him in the back of his patrol car.
While Officer Burnette interviewed a witness, police say Masengale maneuvered his cuffed hands to the front of his body and pushed the Plexiglass divider open.
Then he climbed through and took off driving.
"He heard it accelerate, and he turned and saw his police car actually going southbound on Westside Drive," Cleveland Police Officer Evie West says.
Officers chased their own cruiser down Harrison Pike, before Masengale crashed it into a tree across the Hamilton County line.
Officers from both counties searched the area with dogs while Masengale busted into a nearby home.
"I said, 'who are you'," the homeowner recalls.
Masengale was begging her for a ride.
"He says, 'I need help' and he held his hands up like that, and I seen the handcuffs and I said, man, we're not going to help you," she says.
The homeowner didn't want to be identified. She says she's never met him, but is distantly related. Her son pushed Masengale out the door, they called 911, and he kept running.
"You could smell the meth on him. You could smell drugs," she says.
Police did find a large bag of meth in Masengale's car, along with a woman who also faces charges.
"They're super strength; the adrenaline, I mean, their heart pumps, they're just a different individual. They can fight for hours," Officer West says.
They say that makes him all the more dangerous, and that he's capable of doing anything to elude police.
"It's a manhunt," Officer West says.
The Cleveland Police Department investigated Officer Burnette to see if he's at fault for the escape, but determined he didn't violate policy.
They are reviewing their policy for ways avoid future escapes. They've already been replacing their fleet, as they get the money for those with bars instead of the Plexiglass partitions.
Cleveland police are offering a reward for info leading to Masengale's arrest.
He was last seen on Mahan Gap Road Sunday, wearing a brown Carhart jacket and blue jeans. He's about 5'10 and 120 pounds.
Stay with WRCBtv.com for continuing coverage of this story.