Municipal officials are charged with setting policy for local governmental operations ranging from highly complex situations, like training for the high-speed chase described below, that resulted in serious injury to an innocent person that cost the Kansas City one million dollars, to the rather mundane but important issue of making sure the property of the city is safe. In many ways, this is a risk management exercise that can pay off in significant dividends by reducing unnecessary injuries to citizens and costs to the taxpayers by utilizing good risk management policies.
High Speed Police Chase Highlights The Need For Risk Management
A recent lawsuit involving a high-speed chase in Kansas City highlights risk management issues. In the early morning hours a police officer observed a vehicle speeding through a red light. This information was forwarded to other police officers that observed the vehicle having difficulty in maintaining its lane of travel, speeding through stop signs, and stop lights before the officer lost sight of the vehicle. Later the vehicle was again located parked near an intersection with the driver’s leg and arm outside the fully opened driver door. Before the driver exited the vehicle, the officer’s spotlight alerted the driver who then sped off at high speeds approaching 100 mph while continuing to run through red lights and stop signs swerving out of the drivers lane and nearly running two vehicles off the road.
In coordination with other police officers, the officers decided to deploy “stop sticks,” or tire-deflation devices in the anticipated line of travel. When the vehicle hit the stop sticks, the SUV veered, flipped, and crashed into Mr. Moody’s vehicle, which was stopped because the officers were in the roadway deploying tire-deflation devices. This resulted in serious injuries to Mr. Moody (a totally innocent person and cooperating citizen). Mr. Moody could not remember anything about that night, except it occurred after he left work, while driving to his security job at a nightclub. You know how it works. The innocent get punished. Sad but true.
Naturally, Mr. Moody sued everyone in sight for damages and eventually obtained a $1 million dollar jury verdict against the Board of Police Commissioners of Kansas City (Board). The evidence supporting the jury verdict showed that:
“…the dash-cam video showed that Mr. Fields accelerated from about 60 miles per hour to about 100 miles per hour over the course of 20 seconds during which time Officer Brulja did not report that this was occurring until just before the crash. He had conceded on cross-examination that the KCPD tire-deflation-device deployment policy indicated that stop sticks cause a “rapid” release of air when struck. It would not have been unreasonable for jurors to conclude that the natural and probable consequence of Officer Brulja’s failure to accurately report the SUV driver’s speed and acceleration as stop sticks were deployed was the crash that injured Mr. Moody.”
Based on this evidence the appeals court concluded that vehicle policies of the Board were violated by the following actions:
“(1) the officers’ conversations indicated that the chase was a personal challenge; (2) the officers had information from which they could have identified Mr. Fields and apprehended him at a later time, but chose instead to pursue him; (3) the pursuit took place over roads with icy patches, and Mr. Fields drove the SUV erratically at very high speed, forcing other vehicles off the road, creating danger to the public that a jury could have found exceeded the danger presented by his remaining at large; and (4) tire-deflation devices were deployed in a manner that did not ensure public safety.”
Policy And Training
In this case, the Board had established policies, which the police officers were required to follow in the case of a high-speed chase. Writing good policy seems like the easy part. The more difficult part is how to train officers to implement the policy. Whether or not the officers were properly trained in this case is unknownalthough they were not able to implement the policy in real time. I do recognize that a police officer’s job is extremely difficult making it hard to be judgemental. What is clear (in my mind), is that this case offers a real-life model for a training exercise with respect to high-speed chases. You may want to include it in your training.
For a more detailed discussion of this case you may want to review my analysis in the December 2017 Missouri Municipal Attorneys Newsletter.
Howard Wright© 2018