Picture this: You’re driving through town when you see police lights in your rearview mirror. You ignore the cop and driver home, where you find your street blocked by police cars and at least one officer on foot. Instead of stopping, you attempt to drive through them, striking an officer with your car. In return, police open fire and you are struck, putting an end to your night.
Variations on this scenario are common, but this example was borrowed from a TNT story (10/21) involving a 34-year-old Tacoma man who was shot after allegedly driving his vehicle at Tacoma police officers in 2011. The officer he struck was not badly injured, though the driver himself was shot as he continued to flee. Eventually, the driver decided to sue the Tacoma Police Department, alleging that the officer he hit was somehow at fault. Which is a fitting seque to the vocabulary word of the new millenium: gall [gôl] noun 1. bold, impudent behavior.Recall that this individual allegedly refused to pull over for police (a misdemeanor) and commited a dangerous felony while attempting to flee (vehicular assault). Those crimes were compounded by a frivolous lawsuit which will ultimately require a taxpayer-funded defense to cover the legal costs, regardless of the outcome.
People have become so used to the idea of crazy lawsuits (remember the 3 million awarded in McDonald’s hot coffee suit?) that it is difficult to summon any outrage over this one. Yet the costs to police agencies and local governments are huge, especially for those that are self-insured (i.e. taxpayers’ money again).
Nowadays, the average cop should expect to be civilly sued at least once during his or her career. In fact, many officers have gone so far as to pay for supplemental insurance out of their own pocket simply to protect their personal assets.
To be fair, police officers do make mistakes. Sometimes the consequences are dire. In such instances, they should be held accountable.
But this does not alter the reality of police work, where the stakes can literally be life or death. The citizens who grant officers their authority expect them to be prepared to use deadly force to stop an imminent threat.
The Tacoma lawsuit alleges that the officer who was struck by the plaintiff’s ignored training by standing outside of his vehicle. Given the ever-changing dynamics of police incidents, it would be imprudent (not impudent – see “gall” above) to speculate on that point without further details.
In any case, what this plaintiff fails (or refuses) to acknowledge is that on the night in question he held all the cards. He could have turned his lights on, and thereby precluded a traffic stop. He could have pulled over when a patrol car activated his emergency lights. He could have stopped his car when an echelon of police officers blocked his path.
Instead, he ignored all of these options and plowed through a line of cops. In his single-minded decision to flee, he ignored the law and the safety of others. He was, to be precise, an imminent threat.
So the question is, in what universe does logic dictate that the police officer recklessly struck by a fleeing criminal is somehow at fault?
Answer: In the cosmic realm of civil litigation, where “Personal responsibility takes a backseat to a big payout.”
Buckle up, citizens of Tacoma. Looks like another sticky-fingered driver wants to take you for a ride.