Utahns have mixed feelings about Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling giving police officers less liability in high-speed chases.
For law enforcement, the unanimous decision may mean being able to concentrate more on their jobs. For the family members of people killed or injured during a chase, the ruling is difficult to accept.The unanimous decision states that law enforcement officers are not liable for death or injury in a high-speed chase, unless they act with the intent to cause the injury or death, in a conscience-shocking way.
"It's very disappointing for me," said Layne Stewart, whose 15-year-old son was killed last year while riding in a Jeep being chased by a county sheriff. "I've been kind of avoiding this, because it brings back old feelings."
Stewart said she had hoped the Supreme Court would decide differently, to eventually change chase policies.
Salt Lake police changed their chase policy in 1993, making it one of the strictest in the state, said attorney Edward Havas. However, he still disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling.
"We trade off the rights of innocents," Havas said. "I can't say that in order to protect society, that deliberate indifference to an individual's well-being and life should be excused or allowed to take place with impunity."
But Peggy Faulkner, Salt Lake Coun-ty sheriff's spokeswoman, said the ruling would not change any of their policies, which are modeled after state law and the policies of the National Sheriffs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
"This isn't going to change anything," she said. "Our whole purpose is to serve and protect the public. . . . We are supposed to arrest people who commit crimes. If the bad guys knew they could run away, what does that tell the public?"
Attorney Andrew Morse agreed with the ruling, which he said will let officers do their jobs without second-guessing themselves. "Let's remember who started all of this. It was the bad guys. If they would stop when they are told to stop, none of this would happen. But they choose to disobey the law."
Apparently the justices agreed with Morse's reasoning. In the ruling's conclusion, Justice David Souter wrote, "(The officer's) instinct was to do his job, not to induce (the suspect's) lawlessness, or to terrorize, cause harm, or kill."
The case, County of Sacramento (California) vs. Lewis, involved a teenage passenger on a motorcycle being pursued by sheriff's deputies. The motorcycle tipped over during the chase, and a deputy, unable to stop soon enough, hit and killed the passenger.