To defend their actions, officers claimed a reckless chase lasted only 37 seconds before the driver caused a fatal wreck. However, in a high-speed pursuit, thirty-seven seconds is an eternity.
According to Georgia State Police investigators, the crash happened on Northside Drive and 14th Street after Atlanta police tried to conduct a traffic stop at 17th Street. Suspects in a white Toyota RAV4 drove away on Northside Drive and failed to stop at the red light. The RAV4 crashed into a Mitsubishi Outlander, almost instantly killing an Uber driver and passenger. Three people inside the suspect vehicle were rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
Georgia State Patrol officials have not commented on what charges will be filed in this case.
Police chase policy has been in the headlines in metro Atlanta recently. In 2020, top brass passed a strict anti-chase policy. Less than a year later, interim police Chief Rodney Bryant reinstated the old chase policy if pursuing officers had “direct knowledge” that the suspect was involved in a “forcible felony” and posed an imminent danger to public safety.
There is a lot of vague language in this directive. However, there are also some specific requirements, like knowledge of a forcible felony. That knowledge appears to be absent in the above story. There is not even any evidence that the fleeing suspect was associated, in any way, with a forcible felony. However, all the facts are not known yet.
The controversial official immunity doctrine shields officers from civil liability in many cases. However, this doctrine only goes so far. It usually does not extend to clear policy violations.
Absent a policy violation, a Marietta personal injury attorney may use circumstantial evidence to prove negligence, or a lack of care. This evidence includes:
- Nature of the suspect’s alleged offense,
- Time of day or night,
- Neighborhood makeup (e.g., residential, commercial, or industrial),
- Length of the pursuit, and
- Alternatives available.
The evidence must be strong enough to overcome the official immunity doctrine. We promise we will discuss this doctrine below.
These available alternatives include James Bond-like gadgets, including shootable GPS trackers. Instead of racing after fleeing suspects, officers can tag these vehicles and arrest the driver later and under much safer conditions.
These alternatives are not popular among many officers. They would rather experience the thrill of “getting the bad guy,” no matter who else is put at risk.
In a nutshell, official immunity, or qualified immunity, protects public officers from personal liability for civil damages sustained from wrongs alleged to have been committed while acting in furtherance of their official duties.
According to the Supreme Court, to overcome this barrier, victims/plaintiffs must prove that the officer broke “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”
This doctrine is often hard to overcome in shooting cases. Everything happens so fast, and the officer is often the only living eyewitness. Reckless chases are different. These situations unfold a bit more gradually and usually involve multiple witnesses.
We should also touch on the notice of claim requirement. Before a Marietta personal injury lawyer files paperwork in court, s/he must usually file a notice of claim with the city, county, or other entity that employed the officer. This notice gives the defendant a chance to settle the claim quietly before it makes the headlines.
Damages in a reckless police chase claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.