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Innocent victims of pursuit
and victims of DUI crashes rarely see justice
by Candy Priano

Your two stories on pursuits & justice were very informative.

I buried my daughter, Kristie, an innocent bystander killed when a police chase ended in a violent crash.

In this particular chase -- as in most police chases -- the officers knew the suspect did NOT have a dead body in the trunk. I am responding to your story: Pursuits & Punishment, Is Justice Served?

In California and around the country, justice for innocent victims of pursuit is rarely served.

Victims of pursuit and victims of DUI crashes share many similarities.
1. Punishment for the violators is too little, too late.
2. The violators are often repeat offenders.
3. The public, the media and our courts neatly categorize the killing and maiming of innocent lives as the result of "car accidents." But these pursuit and DUI crashes are not accidents. The violators intentionally put innocent people and officers in harm's way. And, as your story points out, the California Supreme Court with its shameful ruling that a felony pursuit may not necessarily amount to a second degree murder conviction is yet another reason why these senseless deaths of the innocent continue.
4. No preventative measures are in place to protect the innocent, and this is especially true in California because our state law grants blanket immunity to law enforcement agencies even when officers fail to follow the pursuit policy their agency has actually adopted.

California's pursuit practices force our officers to make split-second decisions when it is too late for the innocent. The pursuit mode of apprehension is not the safest, nor even the most effective option. Officers will tell you that most of the violators involved in the 7,000 police chases each year in California will be back on the street before the officers finish their paperwork on the chase. And again, I agree with officers when they say it's ridiculous that they can't even physically detain fleeing suspects or that the suspects are out on bail before the day is over.

 

For example, I learned that my innocent daughter Kristie didn't need to die to keep others safe. In fact, while I watched my Kristie die, the fleeing teen went home with her mother and later served only one year in juvenile hall. The officers involved in this chase KNEW the name, age and address of the teen prior to the chase and that she had taken her mother's RAV 4 without permission.

The officers knew they would not be able to physically detain the teen ... even if she killed an innocent person in a pursuit crash. The officers failed to follow their own pursuit policy that states a pursuit shall be abandoned if the identity of a juvenile is known and the juvenile can be apprehended later. The policy also states that a pursuit shall be abandoned if it is traversing traffic-controlled intersections. The teen was chased through a poorly lit residential neighborhood at night, traversing at high speed numerous traffic-controlled intersections, until she plowed into our van directly where Kristie was sitting.

When we filed a wrongful death claim against the City of Chico, our case was summarily dismissed -- as has happened with so many other victims of pursuit in California -- because of our unique state law that grants blanket immunity even when the pursuit policy is not followed.

In deciding a case where a pedestrian was killed during a pursuit through a California high school parking lot, the Fourth Appellate Court judges on November 26, 2002, expressed their displeasure with the current law governing police pursuits:

"The law in its current state simply grants a 'get out of liability free card' to public entities [police] that go through the formality of adopting a policy. The adoption of a policy, which may never be implemented, is cold comfort to innocent victims. We do not know if the policy was followed in this instance, and that is precisely the point: We will never know because defendant [police] did not have to prove [that they] followed the policy. We urge the Legislature to revisit this statute and seriously reconsider the balance between public entity immunity and public safety. The balance appears to have shifted too far toward immunity and left public safety twisting in the wind."

Respectfully submitted,

Candy Priano

 

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