State high court sides with police in ruling - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

State high court sides with police in ruling

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October 16, 2006

Albany -- If innocent bystanders are killed during a high speed police chase, should the police be held responsible?

The Supreme Court of Georgia says no.  In a ruling today, the court says officers should have immunity unless they act with actual malice or intent to injure. 

In 2001, during a high-speed chase, 32-year old Terron Phillips of Atlanta was killed when a chase suspect hit his car and rammed him into a wall. Phillips' family sued the state, but the Supreme Court says the officer didn't intentionally hurt Phillips.  The officer was just doing his job.    

It's not likely you'll ever witness a police chase.  Although you may see one on TV, they don't happen that often-- at least not in Dougherty County. "We have a policy in place that restricts chases, vehicle pursuits, to acts where there's been a violent felony in progress, a robbery, aggravated assault, we know somebody's armed," said Dougherty Co. Police Chief Don Cheek.

Only when the driver could pose more of a threat if not stopped, will Dougherty County police chase. "We restrict it, because inherently vehicle pursuits are extremely dangerous," said the Chief.

Dangerous and sometimes deadly says DCP Chief Don Cheek.  "They are dangerous for anybody in proximity to a pursuit.  We have officer safety, obviously in mind.  We have innocent bystanders, are obviously a concern and the person who we're chasing.  We've got an obligation to the community to keep everybody as safe as possible."

In order to stay safe, officers must be aware of what they're capable of. "We don't have the skill sets to be NASCAR drivers.  Any number of things, you could have mechanical failure, somebody that doesn't hear the sirens can pull out, any number of things that can go wrong."

Chief Cheek says that's exactly why officers should think twice before pursuing a suspect. "We do have liability, and more importantly we have responsibility and we've got to use it very judiciously and with the paramount thought of safety for everybody around," Cheek said.

The Dougherty County police department requires an officer to notify a supervisor as soon as a chase begins.  Then the supervisor must make the decision to continue or to call it off. Chief Cheek also says his officers won't chase through school zones or for minor traffic violations. 

  • Read the Court's Opinon HERE

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