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01-21-2006, 02:51 #1
Police pursuits must follow rules to keep suit immunity
Two Supreme Court rulings say police can be held accountable for crashes if they aren't following departmental policy.
Pam Louwagie, Star Tribune
Last update: January 19, 2006 â€“ 11:15 PM
Minneapolis, MN - As he had done for many of his 61 years, Duane Mumm went out for his daily run one evening a few years ago. It was his last.
Right in front of him, a police car ran into a sport-utility vehicle it was pursuing, crashing the SUV into Mumm. He was thrown 70 to 100 feet and killed.
Now Minneapolis police, often immune from lawsuits in such situations, are facing potential liability for the crash because the state Supreme Court has ruled that officers weren't following the Police Department policy when they kept pursuing the mentally ill woman driving the SUV.
In two rulings that could have state police departments double-checking their pursuit policies for liability risks, Minnesota's highest court decided last week to allow two lawsuits from innocent bystander victims or their families to continue.
City attorneys had argued that the suits should be thrown out of court because officers are protected by "official immunity."
Official immunity allows public employees such as police to use their judgment without fear of lawsuits.
But the high court said that immunity doesn't apply when police departments have specific policies and officers don't follow them.
Such policies give officers less discretion and therefore less immunity, said attorneys reviewing the cases. That may make cities try to add language giving police more discretion, they added.
"I have to think they'd be scrambling over there to figure out how to strike a better balance" among pursuing people, keeping the public safe and protecting the city from liability, said Ed Butterfoss, a law professor at Hamline University.
An attorney for the city of Minneapolis said the decisions are raising those questions.
"It appears to put the local governments in a difficult situation because the more they try to exert control over employees in emergency situations, the more likely we're going to lose official immunity and be subject to liability," said Minneapolis Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder. "We're trying to balance fiscal responsibilities as well as protect our citizens."
St. Paul police will also review their policy because of the rulings, spokesman Peter Crum said. "Any Supreme Court case that affects the way we do business naturally causes us to review our policies."
Pursuit in question
In the crash that killed Mumm, a grocery store worker, police said they were pursuing a woman they had been trying to take to a hospital after responding to a report that she was suicidal, out of control and suffering psychotic episodes. The woman, Geralyn E. Mornson, got into the SUV and drove away.
Police followed her onto freeways and back onto local streets, crashing with her in Richfield, where Mumm was jogging.
His widow sued.
Should police have been pursuing Mornson at all? Minneapolis' policy says that, unless police are chasing someone for a narrow list of felonies including homicide, kidnapping and sexual assault, they must stop when they know the identity of the offender and can apprehend him or her at another time, the Supreme Court pointed out. Because of that, the court found, the officers aren't protected.
"The position of the city and Police Department has been when there's a police pursuit it's always an emergency and there's always got to be discretion for police to do whatever they like," said Kurtis Greenley, an attorney representing Mumm's widow, Beverly. "The decision by the Supreme Court makes clear that that is not the situation."
A claim by Mornson saying police violated her Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure was also allowed to proceed.
Mornson's attorney, Louise Behrendt, said they believe that the high court made the right decision. "We certainly felt on behalf of Mrs. Mornson that the city can and should bear the lion's share of responsibility for this incident because they were the ones that instituted this ill-fated pursuit and they were the ones that rammed her off the road," Behrendt said.
Case sent back
In the other case, Minneapolis officers were following a vehicle through downtown Minneapolis when it hit and injured a woman as she was crossing the street. There is dispute about whether it was a pursuit and about whether and when the police turned on lights and sirens, which is mandatory during a pursuit under department policy, the court pointed out. The court sent the case back to Hennepin County District Court for more fact finding.
Deputy Police Chief Sharon Lubinski said departments nationally are moving toward more restrictive chase policies. Polices are in place, she said, to give officers guidance and let them know what is expected of them. "It's not to see how few lawsuits we can have," she said. Minneapolis police have called off more chases in recent years than previously, she added.
www.startribune.comYou may know where you are and what you're doing, God may know where you are and what you're doing, but if the dispatcher doesn't know where you are and what you're doing; you better have a good relationship with God.
01-21-2006, 05:37 #2Chief
Originally Posted by IM911
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
- Bergen County, NJ
One of the hardest things for new officers to get used to is the disparity between what they saw the job as being and what it really is. It is very difficult to get used to the fact that agency and public policy may diverge from personal opinion, and that personal opinion must be subservient to policy.
No matter how difficult it is for you to do, your actions must be guided by the policies of your agency or you risk treading on that area called "personal frolic." That is not a good area to be in, for your psychological, employment, and financial well-being.
The old Chinese expression, "Everybody pushes a falling wall" comes to mind.___________________
Z! USDOJ Ret.
The Answer is There is No Answer