Police Can Kill Fleeing Suspects: US Supreme Court


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Wild Bill

Topic Author's Original Post - May 1, 2007 - 01:12am PT
Ok, so the US Supreme Court says it's ok for the police to ram a fleeing suspect, even when it presents risk of death.

So why can a burglar who falls through your skylight sue you - and win - for hurting himself when falling whilst trying to break into your place?

What say you, Jody? Get to ram a few felons in your day? That would be so cool!

Court Backs Police in Chase Case

The Associated Press
Monday, April 30, 2007; 9:33 PM

WASHINGTON -- Police may use tactics that put fleeing suspects at risk of death to end high-speed car chases, the Supreme Court said Monday in ruling against a Georgia teenager who was paralyzed after his car was run off the road.

In a case that turned in part on a video of the chase in suburban Atlanta, the court said it is reasonable for law enforcement officers to try to stop a fleeing motorist to prevent harm to bystanders or other drivers.

"A police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death," Justice Antonin Scalia said in his majority opinion.

The court sided 8-1 with former Coweta County sheriff's deputy Timothy Scott, who rammed a fleeing black Cadillac on a two-lane, rain-slicked road in March 2001. The nighttime chase reached speeds of up to 90 miles an hour.

Victor Harris, the 19-year-old driver of the Cadillac, lost control and his car ended up at the bottom of an embankment. Harris was rendered a quadriplegic.

The court, in a nod to modern technology, for the first time posted the dramatic video on its Web site.

Many large police forces have strict rules for when officers can begin high-speed pursuit, limiting chases to instances where there has been a felony crime committed, a misdemeanor crime involving a weapon, or suspected drunken drivers who are an obvious road hazard.

Harris was wanted only for speeding.

Joshua Dressler, an Ohio State University law professor and expert on the Fourth Amendment, said he did not think that police would relax those policies. "The clear trend of police departments in major urban areas has been to limit police chases in general," Dressler said. "There have been so many injuries and deaths as a result of police chases and such great risk of harm to innocent bystanders."

More than 350 people died each year on average from 1994 to 2004 because of police chases, a group of Georgia police chiefs said in court papers in this case.

Yet officers now have less to fear from the tragic results of a car chase because of Monday's ruling, Dressler said. "This ruling may result in even faster chases and therefore perhaps increase the risk of harm not only to the speeder, but also innocent bystanders."

Innocent parties hurt in such incidents always have had a hard time winning lawsuits against police and Monday's decision will make their claims harder to prove, Dressler said

Harris sued Scott after the crash, claiming the deputy's decision to ram the Cadillac violated Harris' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure.

Lower federal courts ruled the lawsuit could proceed, but the Supreme Court said Monday that the officer could not be sued for his actions. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented.

Scalia described a "Hollywood-style car chase of the most frightening sort, placing police officers and innocent bystanders alike at great risk of serious injury."

During oral argument, justices repeatedly invoked the video to support how recklessly they believed Harris was driving.

Stevens, however, said that a district court judge and three appellate judges who watched the same video concluded otherwise. Those judges determined the issue should be decided after a trial, not by a judge in a pretrial ruling.

In the courtroom, Stevens said that was preferable to the case "being decided by a group of elderly appellate judges," a reference to himself and his colleagues on the court. At 87, Stevens is the oldest justice.

In his written dissent, however, Stevens suggested his colleagues were too young to appreciate the situation.

"Had they learned to drive when most high-speed driving took place on two-lane roads rather than on superhighways...they might well have reacted to the videotape more dispassionately," he said.

Scalia said people could watch the tape and decide for themselves. "We are happy to allow the videotape to speak for itself," he said in a footnote that accompanied the ruling.

The case is Scott v. Harris, 05-1631.


Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
May 1, 2007 - 01:19am PT
I see one problem in that article, it was the line-"He was wanted only for speeding." So what? That is only the probable cause for the stop. When the guy runs in a reckless manner, it becomes a felony so "only wanted for speeding" is irrelevant.

I have done one "PIT" manuever on a fleeing suspect. PIT stands for Pursuit Intervention Technique. The policy regarding use of the PIT is confidential but suffice it to say that "ramming" per se is not allowed. I waited until the vehicle was going slow enough so as not to cause an injurious situation and then I spun the car while accelerating away. The following officers then hemmed in the vehicle before the suspect could get the engine started and get away. Spinning the vehicle usually kills the engine momentarily.
Wild Bill

Topic Author's Reply - May 1, 2007 - 01:19am PT
Gaud dam - that reminds me of this guy: How NOT to rob a liquor store

Wild Bill

Topic Author's Reply - May 1, 2007 - 01:23am PT
You mean like this?


Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
May 1, 2007 - 01:30am PT
They were going too fast when they did it although their positioning and execution was good. The bad guy is just a darn good driver.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
May 1, 2007 - 01:34am PT
Its worrisome nonetheless...

May 1, 2007 - 01:40am PT
Jody, if the technique is confidential, you shouldn't reveal it. I'd delete or modify that post. If it's supposed to be secret that is.

Wild Bill, your thread title belies the inherent intent of the legal interpretation. Perps shouldn't be allowed to flee at high speed from the law and then sue said law when injured in said fleeing. Nough said.

And we shouldn't be responsible for some scumbag getting hurt while trying to do harm.

Trad climber
May 1, 2007 - 02:01am PT
hey Mimi

how do ya know they are perps?

just making a point

8-1 ruling - probably a pretty sound reason for it. The real transgression here is the thread title - ya troll.

May 1, 2007 - 02:07am PT
dmalloy, point taken. I'm pretty sure the decision was based on case history of respective criminal activity. I'm sure the Court looked at the rare bad luck scenario of some hapless schmuck getting hurt trying to outrun a squadcar in traffic.

May 1, 2007 - 02:15am PT

May 1, 2007 - 02:20am PT

May 1, 2007 - 02:27am PT

Happy and Healthy climber
the Gunks end of the country
May 1, 2007 - 08:26am PT
"Police Can Kill Fleeing Suspects"!

I am sure there are some departments that will be glad to hear that. Like in NY where they killed one of their own the other day, and last year used 50 some bullets and only got one who was not fleeing.

But seriously, I suspect the court would have used the word "may" rather than "can".

May 1, 2007 - 11:27am PT
Way to f*#k up another thread with the Benito/clown bs.

You should read the opinion. It does not say police can kill fleeing suspects. It says police dont have to call off a chase, they can use force to stop a chase, when some shithead puts others in jeopardy of serious injury.

The most interesting part, imo, is that the court decided a summary judgment motion, in "the light most favorable to the videotape" which means the supreme court disregarded the scumbags version of events, by reviewing the videotape of the chase. Normally, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff when deciding this type of motion.

The video is even posted on the courts website, which is another first.


Trad climber
May 1, 2007 - 01:29pm PT
"I see one problem in that article, it was the line-"He was wanted only for speeding." So what? That is only the probable cause for the stop. When the guy runs in a reckless manner, it becomes a felony so "only wanted for speeding" is irrelevant. "

Thanks for clearing that up Jody. I wasn't aware that reckless driving had a death penalty.

Social climber
Land of Green Stretchy People
May 1, 2007 - 01:39pm PT
I'm glad the court decided the way they did. I read the story, they chased the guy for a while before they ran him off the road.

So is it OK for a dickhead to run over me and mine because the police can't run him off the road?

Last time I checked, my car was a deadly weapon, if used in the wrong way.

Rewarding this guy for being a moron is the last thing I want the supremes to do.
Wild Bill

Topic Author's Reply - May 1, 2007 - 01:47pm PT
LOL, HDDJ. No kidding. I mean, Jody, does not the CHP and many other agencies have a policy similar to that mentioned in the original post? Meaning, that only certain felonies or dangerous behavior warranted a high-speed pursuit?

Now, judging from this Yosemite case, being a careless climber CAN carry the death penalty:

KANT MUCHHALA, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

1:05-CV-0863 OWW


February 5, 2007, Decided
February 6, 2007, Filed




On May 9, 2004, Jay David Muchhala, a twenty-seven year old man, climbed a high voltage power pole in Yosemite National Park ("Yosemite"). He was electrocuted and died, either as a result of the electrocution or from the resulting fall. Plaintiffs, Jay Muchhala's parents, filed suit against the United States of America, which owns and operates the Park as well as the high voltage electric pole at which the accident occurred. Brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2671, et seq., the complaint alleges (1) negligence and (2) dangerous condition of public property. (Doc. 1, June 30, 2005.)

On August 4, 2006, Magistrate [*2] Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill granted the United States' motion for summary judgment with respect to the issue of negligence per se, but denied the motion as to all other issues. (Doc. 36.) Evidence was taken during a three day bench trial on September 21-23, 2006. (Docs. 69-71.) The parties presented oral summations at the close of evidence. The parties were also invited to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and did so. (Docs. 73, 74.) Having considered all submissions and the arguments of the parties, the following findings of fact and conclusions of law are entered.


A. Overview of the Accident.

1. On May 9, 2004, Jay David Muchhala climbed a 30-foot, galvanized steel utility pole (the "accident pole") adjacent to the Four Mile Trail in Yosemite National Park ("Yosemite"). (Agreed Statement of Facts ("ASF") # 3 (Joint Exhibit ("JE") 13.))

2. Jay Muchhala paid admission and was lawfully on the premises of Yosemite. (ASF # 1.)

3. While climbing the accident pole, Jay Muchhala was electrocuted and died, either as a result of the electrocution, or from the fall from the pole. (Coroner's Report, Plaintiffs' Exhibit ("PE") [*3] 180.) Jay Muchhala's head wounds were "also lethal in extent." (Id.)

4. Shortly before the accident, Jay Muchhala wrote in his journal "[c]limbed two electricity towers and am just below the third." (Journal Entry, PE 176.)

5. Mr. Muchhala was 27 years old at the time of the accident. (ASF # 7.)

B. The Accident Pole and the Glacier Point Line.

6. The accident pole is one of ten steel poles that form a high voltage electrical distribution line within Yosemite, referred to as the Glacier Point Line. (ASF # 2.)

7. The Glacier Point Line is one of four high voltage power lines operated and maintained by Defendant United States of America within Yosemite. (ASF # 2; Testimony of Kent Summers.)

8. Witnesses testified that the accident pole is located anywhere from 20 to 200 feet from the Four Mile trail. (Testimony of Kent Summers (100-200 feet), Keith Guy (20 feet), Deposition Testimony of Susan Whittier (25-30 feet).)

9. To access the accident pole from the trail, one must scramble down some boulders in a boulder field. (Testimony of Keith Guy, Kent Summers.)

10. The trail is visible from the base of the pole. (Testimony of Keith Guy.) However, the lines and [*4] pole are not particularly noticeable from the trail. Stephen Whittier, a witness to part of the accident, did not notice the power line until he and his family heard a snapping noise and saw Jay Muchhala fall from the pole. (Deposition Testimony of Stephen Whittier.) Susan Whittier, who also witnessed the accident, noticed the power lines on her way up the trail, but didn't take particular note of them until the accident. (Id.)

11. The accident pole is 30 feet tall and made of galvanized steel. The accident pole has two cross arms close to the top. The lower cross arm, which was not in use at the time of the accident, may have previously been used to carry communication wires. Located approximately four feet above the lower cross arm was the upper cross arm, on which run four lines, three conductor lines that each carry 12,000 volt current and a "static line." (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

12. As each conductor line approaches the pole, it meets insulators, one on each side of the pole, which keep the electric current from being conducted through the pole to the ground. A "jumper cable" or "jumper" bypasses the insulators, carrying electricity from the outside of the insulator [*5] on one side of the pole to the outside of the insulator on the other side of the pole. (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

13. Nine of the ten poles in the Glacier Point Line are substantially identical to the accident pole. The remaining pole ("Pole # 1"), which is located at the bottom of the valley, differs in construction. It is a "riser" pole, where the high voltage power line is transferred from below ground to above ground. (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

14. There were no warning signs on the accident pole at the time of the accident. (ASF # 4.) Nor was there physical evidence indicating a sign had previously been located on the pole. (Testimony of Kent Summers, Steven Yu.)

15. At the time of the accident, a number of other poles on the Glacier Point Line also did not have high voltage warning signs. (Testimony of Kent Summers, Robert Armstrong.)

16. The riser pole had high voltage markings on the top cross arm on the date of the incident. (JE. 8 & 9; Testimony of Kent Summers & Paul Laymon.) After the accident, a yellow high voltage warning sticker was also placed near the base of the riser pole. Two years later, in 2006, a picture taken of that sticker reveals that the yellow warning [*6] sticker had begun to peel off the pole. (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

17. All of the poles on the Glacier Point Line have removable steel pegs. (Testimony of Kent Summers.) The removable pegs attach to the pole by screwing or bolting into steel flanges. These flanges are also known as "saddles." (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

18. At the time of the accident, the lowest climbing peg on the accident pole was located approximately four feet above ground level. Three additional pegs were located lower than 7'6" feet above ground level. Every pole in the Glacier Point Line, with the exception of the riser pole, had climbing pegs at the same heights. (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

19. Even with the pegs removed below at 7'6", a climber could climb the pole by climbing the flanges that support the pegs. (Testimony of Keith Guy.)

20. However, climbing the pole without the pegs in place is difficult. Some of the workers had difficulty accessing the pole without the assistance of an "aid," even with the pegs installed. (Testimony of Kent Summers, Testimony of Keith Guy).

21. At the time of the accident, the subject pole had a sticker attached to bearing the words "Proud to Be an American." (PE [*7] 148). At the time of the accident, the sticker was not new, and had partially peeled off of the pole. (Testimony of Kent Summers.) The sticker was located just above the "flange" on the pole, approximately half way up the pole, at a height of fifteen or sixteen feet. (PE 148; Testimony of Kent Summers & Steven Yu.)

22. The sticker had not been seen by a park employee prior to the incident. (Testimony of Kent Summers).

23. There is no evidence that the pole was dangerous or defective, and it was implemented for its intended use.

66. There is a field of boulders used by climbers for recreational purposes at the base of the Four Mile Trail, but the boulders under the Glacier [*20] Point Line are not part of any established bouldering area. (Testimony of Steven Yu.)

67. Mr. Muchhala was wearing climbing shoes when he climbed the electricity towers. He had changed into them after leaving the Four Mile Trail. (Testimony of Steven Yu; PE 176.)

68. Mr. Muchhala's backpack and other personal effects were found on the ground between pole three and pole four. (Testimony of Steven Yu.)

69. Before climbing the subject pole, Mr. Muchhala wrote "At the first hairpin turn up the 4 mile hike in Yosemite Valley. [sic] I slingshot off into the boulders then roll down the hillside. Swapped to my climbing shoes and was agile as a gazelle! Doing prince of Persia moves, jumping from rock to rock. Having a backpack and a bag of painting supplies really slows me down. Can do maybe 1/3 of the moves. Climbed 2 electricity towers and am just below the third...." (PE 176)

70. Mr. Muchhala was standing on the lower cross arms and resting his hips on or near the upper cross arms when he was shocked. (Testimony of Robert Armstrong, Mark Rhodes.)

71. The two primary contact points were his left hip and left foot. There were no burns on his hands, indicating he did not touch or grab [*21] the conductor lines with his hands. Instead, the current arced from the jumper into his left hip prior to physical contact between his body and the jumper. (Testimony of Steven Yu, Robert Armstrong, and Mark Rhodes.)

72. After the accident, there was a burn mark on the lower cross arm. There was also burned nylon or melted nylon on one of the jumper cables on the upper cross arm on the trail side of the pole. (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

73. There were no broken or down lines after the accident. (Testimony of Kent Summers.)

74. Mr. Muchhala was approximately 30 feet up on the pole when he fell from it. (Testimony of Robert Armstrong, Mark Rhodes.)

75. Mr. Muchhala was not using any fall protection when he fell from the pole. (Testimony of Mark Rhodes, Steven Yu.)

76. An inherent risk of climbing a 30 foot structure without adequate fall protection is falling and suffering injury. (Testimony of Steve Yu, Mark Rhodes.)

77. An inherent risk of climbing an "electricity tower" is electrocution. (Testimony of Mark Rhodes.)

78. Mr. Muchhala climbed the utility pole for "enjoyment or thrill," not because he was lost or disoriented.

79. Susan Whittier, who along with her husband and [*22] son witnessed Mr. Muchalla falling to the ground, initially thought Mr. Muchhala fell from the cliffs above as she could not believe anyone would climb a power pole. (Deposition Testimony of Susan Whittier.)

80. Mr. Muchhala's death was deemed an accident. He did not commit suicide. (Testimony of Steven Yu.)


In the end the court ruled that Mr. Muchhala's death was not caused by the Park's negligence.

Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
May 1, 2007 - 04:28pm PT
DJ et al, it didn't say the police could "kill fleeing suspects". It said they could ram them to prevent innocent people from getting hurt or killed, even if it was at risk to the fleeing suspect. Are you guys really that dense or are you just playing stupid so you can bash cops and defend criminals?

Mountain climber
Templeton, CA
May 1, 2007 - 04:29pm PT
Mimi, what I posted is not confidential.
Wild Bill

Topic Author's Reply - May 1, 2007 - 04:32pm PT
Jody, please don't get defensive. I am a big fan of the CHP.

But I'm wondering, does not the CHP and many other agencies have a policy similar to that mentioned in the original post? Meaning, that only certain felonies or dangerous behavior warranted a high-speed pursuit? If the only crime is a traffic infraction, and the driver speeds away, are the police warranted in continuing the pursuit? Esp. in an urban area.
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