RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The death of a Church Hill pastor, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a high speed police chase, has prompted Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones to call for a summit on the issue.
Jones wants Richmond and neighboring counties to come to an agreement as to how police officers pursue suspects that take off at high rates of speed. University of Richmond Law Professor Jack Pries is an expert in civil rights and joins us to discuss the issue.
Q: I'm sure you've heard the outcry, in the Church Hill community in particular, over the outcome of this crash. Do you think the Henrico police acted in a correct way in this situation?
A: Obviously there are a lot of facts that still need to be discovered, and we are only privy to a certain amount of the facts. I think one thing that's really important to focus on is there is one person that is clearly responsible, and that's Mr. Harris, the suspect who has been arrested and charged with a crime. As a matter of legal liability, Mr. Harris could face liability. There is no doubt about that. The second question becomes, what about the officers? Under the law of the constitution, I think it's very unlikely. The officers would have had to essentially act with intent to harm. No one here suggests that the officers wanted Taylor to be harmed. Under Virginia law, the question would be whether or not the officers acted with gross negligence. There is not a lot of gross negligence here. Gross negligence would be something like they take off after a criminal and cut through a schoolyard full of children. There's nothing like that. So it seems unlikely, in my view, based on the facts I've read so far, that there could be liability.
Q: Let's talk about now about going forward in the policies that both of city of Richmond and Henrico, maybe Chesterfield are talking about implementing. Do you think there is room in Virginia law to perhaps govern this a little more effectively? Is it possible?
A: Certainly. I think there are a lot of avenues they could take. The hardest question, what should the law be? There was a policy in this case. The officers in the case seemed to follow the policy. The question is should we change it? High-speed chases are useful to society in a lot of ways. They allow us to track down people who have done bad things. Sometimes high-speed chases cause a problem. Here is a horrible example of one. The question is, how can you sort out a high value chase from a low value chase? Here is a high value chase I could give you an example of. An officer is driving along. He sees someone walk out of a bank with a bag of money, hops into a car. Everyone agrees we should take off after that car. There is a different case, though, where you see a couple kids graffiti a bridge and they take off. How fast should you drive after those kids and for how long? They're a low value target, I think. They've done wrong, but how much of a life are we willing to risk? And I think that is the tough question. And municipalities across the country struggle with this.
Q: Would you say at the very least it is responsible for the mayor and other communities to talk about it?
A: Absolutely. They need to get data, how many people turn around at a checkpoint? How people run from a checkpoint? What type of arrests are made after they run? Are they a high value arrest, low arrests? If they're just avoiding a DUI, that's one thing. If they have if they have drugs in their car from an interstate trafficking, that could be a high value arrest.