What Happens When Police Hurt Innocent Bystanders?

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Police typically pursue a suspect on the run, all while an innocent bystander is shot or hurt during the high-speed chase. This scenario isn’t as rare as some may think. In a two-year span alone, 9 innocent people were caught in crossfire involving the New York Police Department. Such distress caused the city to compensate over millions of dollars for the case and many other similar cases, all throughout a decade. Anyone can make an error in judgment, including a seasoned police officer, especially in what may be a life-or-death situation. Still, these cases can be devastating for victims who may be left with pain and suffering, lost wages, medical bills, as well as disability or disfigurement. Below, we’ll discuss what may happen after police hurt innocent bystanders.

The Death Toll of High-Speed Police Chases

Since 1979, over 5,000 bystanders and passengers have been killed when they are inadvertently involved in high-speed police chases. Tens of thousands more people became injured when officers pursued suspects in high speeds and dangerous conditions. Many of these chases are for minor infractions, according to a 2015 USA Today analysis.

Being in the Wrong Path at the Wrong Time

Between 1979 and 2013, innocent bystanders and passengers in the chased cars accounted for almost 50% of people killed in police pursuits. Many of the bystanders were killed while in their own car by the driver who was fleeing. In tens of thousands of cases across the country, police have often chased people for misdemeanors and minor traffic violations which can cause drivers to behave recklessly.

Hit & Run by Police Car Chases

In Indianapolis in 2015, a 63-year-old woman was killed by a driver police chased over 4 miles for a shoplifting offense. The suspect who was fleeing from police, slammed into the grandmother’s car, killing her, as well as injuring the other two passengers in the vehicle. A month later, a 25-year-old man in New Jersey was killed by a police driver who was chasing a suspect for running a red light at an intersection.

Justice Department Addresses Police Pursuits

Apart from public and innocent bystanders becoming harmed, there have also been at least 139 police officers killed during these chases. In 1990, the Justice Department went so far as to call police pursuits the most dangerous of police activities while urging police departments across the country to adopt policies to list when officers should and should not pursue drivers. Despite this, many police departments still allow officers to make on-the-spot decisions about whether to pursue.

Police Shootings and Innocent Bystanders

While high-speed pursuits certainly cause substantial harm to nearby pedestrians, these bystanders may also be hurt during shoot-outs involving police. One of the most famous cases involved the manhunt for former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner, who had shot two deputies, the daughter of an LAPD police officer, as well as the daughter’s boyfriend. During the manhunt, police pulled over David Perdue. After questioning him and letting him drive away, a second police car rammed Perdue’s truck and another officer fired three shots at his car. While responding to the report of the mistaken shots fired at Perdue, police fired at a pickup truck with 47-year-old Margie Carranza and 71-year-old Emma Hernandez. Their reason for shooting was because their vehicle vaguely resembled the suspect’s. Carranza suffered an injury to her hand and her mother was shot in the back twice.

Officer Misfired & Early Retire

In Chicago, another high-profile shooting occurred in 2012 when an off-duty police officer named Dante Servin fired from his car into a group of people outside his home. Servin claimed he was firing at a man who pointed a weapon at him when the officer told the group to keep the noise down. Servin shot Antonio Cross, his intended target. Rekia Boyd, a bystander standing just a few feet away, was shot in the head. This case led to rare criminal charges against a police officer for the death of a civilian, although he was acquitted.

Police Kill 6-yr Old Son

In 2015, marshals in Louisiana were pursuing Chris Few as he fled with his 6-year-old son, Jeremy. Few was unarmed but officers opened fire on the car. The 6-year-old boy was killed and his father was wounded. In this case, both officers were arrested and charged.

Recent Shooting in Los Angeles Trader Joe’s

In recent news, another innocent bystander was killed during a shootout between police offers and suspect Gene Evin Atkins. The pursuit took place this past Saturday, July 21st. Earlier that Saturday, Atkins had a disagreement with his Grandmother, thus prompting him to shoot her multiple times. In a state of panic and frenzy, Atkins then kidnapped his alleged girlfriend ” holding her hostage in his grandmother’s Toyota Camry. The chase begins. Atkins and the kidnapped female traveled from the 1600 block of East 32nd street in South LA, all the way to Silverlake-Hyperion. Atkins crashed his vehicle in front of the locally-loved Trader Joe’s market. After impacting the electric/cable pole, Atkins ran inside Trader Joe’s, beginning to hold people hostage in an attempt to protect his freedom. While Atkins ran inside Trader Joe’s, Melyda Corado, the Trader Joe’s store manager, was exiting the market. During this quick pass by between the two, LAPD shot Melyda, who didn’t survive. Hours after Atkins had stepped into the market, he later surrendered to authorities.

Do Victims have Any Legal Options?

Unfortunately, innocent bystander victims often face an uphill battle when they are injured by law enforcements. Some states even make it harder for these victims to receive any kind of compensation. For example, when the wrong person is hit by police or the police make other errors that cause harm to an innocent person, some states assume the situation as unavoidable collateral damage. In New York, the court has recognized that police officers face split-second decisions and are protected from second-guessing.

Governmental Immunity

Cases of bystanders injured by police deal with a concept called “governmental immunity.” Such is the same legal principle that makes it hard for victims in a car accident with an at-fault ambulance driver to seek compensation. This legal doctrine essentially states that a governmental actor like a police officer exercises their own discretion when making decisions and victims of negligence can’t sue.

Pursuing Legal Action

Though “governmental immunity” may seem to make it possible for victims, not all states have such strict governmental immunity policies for police officers. While victims in police chases and shootings do have an uphill fight to successfully sue, such can be done, especially in cases in which the officer showed extremely poor judgment. Innocent bystanders who have been hurt by police should always seek counsel from an experienced personal injury attorney to explore the potential of a case. In many cases of police negligence, if the city or department will not reach a fair or proper settlement, a lawsuit may be filed. For any questions you may have, or to get started on your legal matter, contact our firm immediatelywe’re here to help.


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