INTERVIEW: Police pursuits and legal ramifications

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The fallout continues after a police chase in the East End of Richmond led to the death of an innocent bystander Wednesday night.

Today many are questioning the tactics Henrico County police used to apprehend the suspect.

NBC12 legal expert, Steven Benjamin, joined First at Four to discuss.

Nobles: Let's first talk about the police action in this case. Of course, when apprehending a suspect in a high-speed chase, there are usually no easy answers, but it's almost police's responsibility to bring these suspects to justice.

Benjamin: That's an important point, Ryan, and we've got to include that in our discussion about what happened in this particular tragedy. When the police give a signal to stop, you must stop, period. And the police in that situation, where someone decides to flee, cannot by their inaction permit a willingness to flee to become a viable option. If someone flees, they must be apprehended. And for that reason, the law does not impose on the police any civil liability for their performance of their job or any criminal liability. You know, the person who decided to flee was, in this case, the suspect. The officer did not cause that. Now, that said, there's always room for discussion and consideration of what the policy should be, and this is something that falls within the purview of individual police departments. Their responsibility is to ensure that their officers can make good judgments, even at a time when their adrenaline is raging, when they know somebody is disobeying their authorities, officers have got to consider the circumstances. There is a vast difference between a high speed pursuit in a residential area and a high speed pursuit on a rural country road or highway.

Nobles: Because if you limit police officers as to where they can chase after suspects, that can give people trying to allude the police a tool, so to speak.

Benjamin: We can't limit police, but we can teach them to take into consideration the gravity of the stop they contemplated. For example, if the only reason for their making the stop was because somebody was speeding over 5 miles per hour, there is no circumstance there that would justify a very dangerous pursuit in a residential area. Remember, they have emergency equipment. They have radio. The old saying used to be that you can't outrun Motorola, and there is a great deal of sense there. I do want to say there is one instance where a person is not required to stop. If you receive a signal, even though it might appear to be from a police officer, if you have a reasonable belief that that is not an officer that, it's somebody pretending to be, then you are permitted to disregard that signal until you get to someplace safe.

Nobles: Quickly, and we need to wrap up, the point here, though, is, if you are finding yourself in this situation, you are not going to make the situation any better by trying to get away from the cops.

Benjamin:  No. You will make it worse. If you get the signal, know it's a police officer, stop your vehicle. If you try to outrun him, you're only going to make it worse, much, much worse.

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