The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that five police officers sued by a woman injured during a high-speed chase are immune from legal liability.
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There was disagreement between the judges on immunity standards.
The majority ruled that the officers chasing suspects is the same level of immunity granted by state law for all employees of the government. Justice Judith French wrote that officers could not be held liable unless they acted “in a wilful or reckless manner,” adding that no other public employee faces “of the potential danger, violence, or unique legal responsibilities (to apprehend criminals)” that the police do.
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“We expect the police to protect the public, but that expectation does not necessarily mean that an official must sit idly by while a suspect flees the scene of a crime, especially when the suspicious flight itself presents a danger for the general public further,” she wrote.
She said lower courts had improperly extended the immunity for officers, unless their conduct “outrageous or extreme.” But they said that the officials in this case are entitled to immunity because there was no evidence they acted maliciously, with bad faith or recklessness.
Justice Sharon Kennedy agreed with the judgment of the district court, but disagreed with some of the pronunciation. Two judges dissented, saying that the case must be sent to a court of law.
The decision stems from a lawsuit brought by Pamela Argabrite, who was injured in 2011 in case of a burglary suspect Andrew Barnhart vehicle hit her head on as he fled from Miami Township and Montgomery County officers. Barnhart, died in the crash.
Argabrite, the lawyer does not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine earlier this year an advisory group on law enforcement car chases in an attempt to the number of deaths as a result of such pursuits. The group urged the training on the best practices and the safety of the techniques.