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House approves effort to protect officers from lawsuits related to pursuits

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4 2014 5:50 p.m. MST

South Salt Lake Police and Utah Highway Patrol troopers respond Monday, May 14, 2012 to a car chase involving police and ended in a crash at 3300 south and 700 east. The House passed a bill Tuesday intended to protect law enforcement officers from being liable when suspects they're pursuing are injured or killed. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) South Salt Lake Police and Utah Highway Patrol troopers respond Monday, May 14, 2012 to a car chase involving police and ended in a crash at 3300 south and 700 east. The House passed a bill Tuesday intended to protect law enforcement officers from being liable when suspects they're pursuing are injured or killed. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The House passed a bill Tuesday intended to protect law enforcement officers from being liable when suspects they're pursuing are injured or killed.

"If they choose to put themselves in danger, we don't owe them a duty of care, and we can’t be held liable if they choose to kill themselves," the sponsor of HB20, House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said.

Dee said the bill was in response to the Utah Supreme Court deciding a Cache County family's wrongful death lawsuit could proceed against a Weber County sheriff's deputy who was pursuing their son before he died in a rollover crash.

The 2013 decision by the high court spelled out the change needed in the law, Dee said, calling the chase that lead to the death of a 16-year-old boy described by his mother as suicidal a tragedy for everyone involved, including the sheriff's deputy.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he was troubled by the bill because it handled the issue raised by the court case "with a sledgehammer," taking away any possibility a law enforcement officer could be held responsible.

Dee said the bill would not remove the responsibility of a law enforcement officer engaged in pursuit to "respond adequately and within policy."

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, a retired Utah Highway Patrol trooper who said he was involved in nearly 100 chases, said the court ruling has had a chilling effect on law enforcement.

Greenwood said he has heard officers say, "'I will never, ever chase another vehicle. If someone decides to run, I’m just going to go the other way.' Those are not the comments we want to hear."

The House approved the bill 64-10. It now goes to the Senate.

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