Ruling allows police to be sued in chases that cause death or injury
The Kentucky Supreme Court overturned a 1952 ruling that provided immunity to police when someone was killed or injured as a result of a police chase.
The initial ruling worked to protect officers from legal efforts against them. On Thursday the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the ruling now allowing victims who were injured or family members of victims that were killed as a result of a police chase to sue the department or officer.
This comes after the 2014 death of Luis Gonzalez and Geneva Spencer. The two were driving on U.S. 25 in Lexington when they were struck head on by Keenan McLaughlin while he was running from a Scott County Deputy.
In an investigation it was released that a pursuit began in Scott County after deputies attempted to stop McLaughlin – a well-known drug dealer at the time. Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Johnson pursued McLaughlin into Lexington before discovering his lights on his cruiser were working but his sirens were not. Johnson later told investigators the moment he decided to abandon the pursuit because of the faulty siren, the collision killing both Gonzalez and Spencer took place.
McLaughlin was later arrested after a standoff a few blocks from the crash. He was charged with two counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
After initially filing a lawsuit against Scott County Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Johnson and Sheriff Tony Hampton, Gonzalez’s family’s suit was dissolved in circuit court because of the 1952 ruling. Fast-forward to Thursday’s new ruling, the family has now filed wrongful death lawsuits against both members of the sheriff’s department blaming the faulty siren for part of the reason the crash occurred.
The ruling details other factors that will be considered including rain and dark areas that they pursuit traveled through.
“Kentucky was really behind the times on this particular rule,” said Jay Prather with Garmer and Prather Law in Lexington – the firm representing Gonzalez’s family. “Most other states had already gone to a system where they allowed the jury to consider who is at fault.”
Prather said they were surprised by the ruling. He says they imagined it would not be overturned for at least months but knew Kentucky would travel into the direction many other states have gone.
Barry Stilz the attorney for the Scott County Sheriff’s Department told our news partners at the Herald-Leader they were upset with the ruling. “We’re disappointed in the ruling. We disagree with it.”
The department’s next legal steps have not been released.
Gonzalez’s attorneys say they expect the lawsuit to see a courtroom in 2020.