PursuitSAFETY’s Public Safety Campaign
PursuitSAFETY assists families in person and in our courts. During November and December 2018, Richard Hendrix, Finch McCranie, LLP of Atlanta, wrote the PursuitSAFETY Amicus Brief on behalf of the family of Luis Gonzalez, an innocent bystander killed as a result of a Kentucky pursuit crash. The Kentucky Supreme Court accepted his brief. Here’s the story:
PursuitSAFETY Working in Kentucky
A Big Win for Safety & Accountability
Police officers whose negligent high-speed chases harm innocent bystanders may now be liable for damages, the Kentucky Supreme Court has decided, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.
In a 6-1 ruling, the court held that a jury should consider whether a Scott County deputy sheriff was negligent when he pursued a suspect who crashed head-on into Luis Gonzalez, killing him.
“We at PursuitSAFETY appreciate being able to participate in this effort to fix Kentucky’s immunity law pertaining to vehicular police pursuits. This effort aligns with our mission to prevent the tragedy of pursuit and save lives of innocent bystanders and police officers,” stated PursuitSAFETY founder Candy Priano.
Richard Hendrix, an Atlanta-based attorney, was the author of the PursuitSAFETY amicus brief accepted by the Kentucky Supreme Court in support of the appeal filed by Garmer & Prather, PLLC of Kentucky. Jerome Prather wrote, “The Court cited statistics from PursuitSAFETY’s amicus brief in its opinion.”
Hendrix stated, “Increased accountability will save lives in Kentucky.”
The Courier Journal reported in April that Deputy Jeremy Johnson chased a suspected heroin dealer into Fayette County on a rainy night, realizing in mid-pursuit that his siren wasn’t working. State law requires police to use their lights and sirens during a pursuit. The suspect crashed into a car in which Gonzalez was a passenger, killing him and causing fatal injuries to the driver, Geneva Spencer.
A trial judge summarily dismissed a wrongful death suit filed by Gonzalez’s estate, citing a 65-year-old case brought by the driver of a horse-drawn milk truck whose wagon was cut in two by a fleeing suspect chased by police in Owensboro.
Kentucky’s high court ruled in 1952, “Police cannot be made insurers of the conduct of culprits they chase.”
On June 13, 2019, the Kentucky Supreme Court, however, overruled that opinion, by changing the state law and held that there is a jury question on liability in police chase cases where the fleeing suspect caused the injury.
Gonzalez’s son sued the Scott County Sheriff’s Office over the Jan. 14, 2014, collision, saying his father, a widower with six grandchildren, would still be alive if not for the unlawful chase.
PursuitSAFETY Motion for Leave.
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Working to Give Law Enforcement Life-Saving Tools
PursuitSAFETY funded expenses for six family members of innocent victims to travel to Capitol Hill where they brought our cause to the national level (pictures below). They spoke with legislative aides who represented legislators holding positions on the Judiciary Committee. To our knowledge, we were the first victims’ advocacy organization to go to The Hill and ask that the U.S. Congress include “pursuit reduction technology” in federal law enforcement grants. Specifically, we asked that the legislators include pursuit reduction technology in the Byrne Grant and COPS technology funding for police. As with many legislative requests, we continue to follow up on the status of getting this wording into the grants. We also look to law enforcement to support us in this endeavor.
In Our Courts
The Supreme Court of the United States
Links for these and other court cases are also found at kristieslaw.org
The Court’s Slip Opinion Scott v. Harris (pdf), April 30, 2007
Brief commentary from the justices, officers, and citizens
Tennessee v. Garner, 1985
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of any fleeing suspected felon unless the suspect poses a “significant threat” to the officer or the community and other means have been exhausted. A 1990 report on police pursuits for the NIJ says: “Under Tennessee v. Garner, it is clear that force must be proportionate to the danger the fleeing person represents.”
On The Hill
Adam Shapiro, Texas legislative correspondent for U.S. Senator John Cornyn, thanks Esther Seoanes of Austin for explaining how pursuit reduction technology might have saved her husband James’ life and for her work at PursuitSAFETY.
Jon Farris of Wisconsin discusses PursuitSAFETY’s Fact Sheet that shows some of the faces of innocent victims of pursuit. He’s speaking with Lisa Kaplan, Legislative Correspondent for Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy J. Klobuchar. Texans Jessica Herrera Rodriguez (left) and Esther Seoanes listen intently.
Maria Ipiña of Dallas and Candy Priano listen to Lisa Kaplan after the two victims’ advocates explained the frustration of both civilians and law enforcement because of declining budgets that hamper LE’s ability to test and adopt these technologies. That’s why adding “pursuit reduction technology” to existing grants is a win-win for all of us.
Representing Texas were (L-R) Jessica Herrera Rodriguez, Esther Seoanes, and Maria Ipiña.
PursuitSAFETY supports federal and state legislation designed to strike a proper balance between the rights and expectations of innocent bystanders against the need for inherently dangerous vehicular police pursuits and response calls to apprehend nonviolent suspects.
Outreach to Legislators and Policymakers
On June 12, 2015, PursuitSAFETY chair, Candy Priano, sent our letter to Senators Barbara Boxer & Cory Booker with a request for the federal government to include mandatory data collection on vehicular police pursuits and police response call crashes resulting in deaths or injuries. Click here to read PursuitSAFETY’s letter.
No action has been taken on Bill S.1476 (Police Reporting Information, Data, and Evidence Act of 2015 or the PRIDE Act) since June 2, 2015. Click here.
(Former) Attorney General Eric Holder
On December 2, 2014, then PursuitSAFETY chair, Jon Farris e-mailed a letter to the Attorney General with a request “to release existing FY15 funding to support law enforcement’s testing of pursuit reduction technologies.” Click here to read PursuitSAFETY’s letter.
Update: We did not receive a response from the Attorney General, but we continue to support technology that will provide law enforcement with the tools they need to apprehend suspects in a safer way. We look forward to the day when the use of technology begins before there is even a chase, given that most deadly crashes happen within two to three minutes of a pursuit.