Supreme Court Backs Police On High-Speed Pursuits - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

05/01/07-Tyler

Supreme Court Backs Police On High-Speed Pursuits

The U.S. Supreme Court has made a ruling giving authorities a kind of legal armor against lawsuits, even if it puts drivers they're pursuing or other civilians in jeopardy.

It begs the question: Should police have to back off sometimes?

Sometimes there is no choice, like when the Smith County Courthouse shooter David Arroyo ran after opening fire.

"You had someone who had taken lives of people on the square, he was potentially going to take other peoples lives," says Tyler Police Chief Gary Swindle.

"In those cases, our officers are trained, and our policy allows for you to pursue at all costs, basically."

But the Supreme Court ruled 8-to-1 that officers may use reasonable force to end any chase dangerous to the public, even if it's a just a speeder.   A 19-year-old running from Georgia cops was left a quadriplegic after an deputy rammed his vehicle.  He sued.

Chief Swindle says, in his department, there are rules as to when to chase and when not, and securing safety of bystanders won't change.

"Sometimes there's a difference between someone being wanted for a traffic ticket as opposed to someone in a serious aggravated felony case," Swindle says.  

During a chase, the weather, traffic, and speed is on officers' minds.  The DPS says there are plenty of opportunities to end it.

Trooper Jean Dark: "We're not going to back off of any violator when we can also pursue other avenues.  We have helicopters available to us, [like] using the radio system and engaging other agencies to be ahead of the pursuit."  

The bad guys rarely get away, and Chief Swindle says the Supreme Court sent a message.

"If you decide to run, you're assuming all responsibilites. If you're injured or killed, that is your fault, not the police's fault," says Swindle.

Police chases kill, on average, more than 300 people a year.  One-third of those are innocent bystanders.  This Supreme Court decision will likely not end lawsuits from those innocent people hurt, but Chief Gary Swindle says the Court decision should help in local suits, helping prove officers were following the law.

Morgan Palmer, Reporting morganpalmer@kltv.com

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