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Bill proposing liability protection for police officers stalls

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 7:30 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial bill purporting to protect Utah police officers from liability during high-speed chases has been pulled by the sponsor and likely won't resurface this legislative session.

SB149, sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, was scheduled for a hearing Friday in the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee. However, after Adams met Thursday with the mother and girlfriend of a man killed during a police chase last year, the bill was shelved.

Troy Burkinshaw, 52, was shot and killed Oct. 26 during a police chase in Corinne, Box Elder County. His mother, Carolyn Clark, and girlfriend, Johanna Vanbeek, claim police killed Burkinshaw by using unwarranted deadly force. They visited the Capitol with attorney Jim McConkie on Thursday to meet with Adams and protest the bill.

"This bill guts everything on the books. It dictates that the minute a cop turns on the lights and sirens, he can use any force he wants to," McConkie said. "It gives them absolute immunity. This kind of legislation (would) create cowboy-type policemen rather than professionals."

But Adams declined to say whether his bill was shelved because of his meeting McConkie.

"This has nothing to do with police brutality," he said. "If an officer were to pull someone over and abuse them, this wouldn't protect (the officer) at all. … Too many attorneys are wasting the state's taxpayer money with these various lawsuits, and this would prevent that."

The Utah Supreme Court is slated to determine a lawsuit stemming from a teenager's death during a police chase in 2010. Adams said he's confident the current understanding of police officers' rights during a chase will be upheld. Such a ruling, he said, would accomplish the same level of police liability protection intended in his bill.

"We will study the bill in interim committee and wait until next year," Adams said.

E-mail: blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @benlockhart89

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