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7th Circuit rules on police chase violations

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Police chases do not violate the Fourth and 14th Amendments when the officers involved do not intentionally and forcibly halt the fleeing subject, according to a ruling today by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case came out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. It follows an April decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that gave police officers significant protection from lawsuits by suspects who lead them on car chases.

This 7th Circuit decision affirms the District Court's summary judgment in favor of the defendants in the combined appeal of Floyd Steen, personal representative of the estate of Brandon S. Hilbert v. Robert Myers, Brad Ridenour, and City of Portland, Indiana and Richard Philebaum and Teresa Philebaum, as legal guardians of Robyn A. Philebaum, and Robyn A. Philebaum, individually, v. City of Portland, Indiana, Portland Police Department, Robert Myers, and Brad Ridenour.  The court remanded the state law claims back to state court.

The plaintiffs in the combined appeal represent the interests of Brandon Hilbert and Robyn Philebaum. Hilbert was killed and Philebaum was severely injured after a high-speed police chase in which Myers pursued Hilbert's motorcycle.

Myers and Hilbert had a previous encounter in which Myers and another officer mistook Hilbert for an assault subject and held him at gunpoint until determining he was not the wanted suspect. Hilbert's relatives argue he was left in fear of Myers because of this and may explain why he fled.

Myers spotted Hilbert and Philebaum sitting on a parked motorcycle and suspected Hilbert was driving on a suspended license and had no motorcycle license. Once Myers received confirmation that Hilbert's license was indeed suspended and he did not have a motorcycle endorsement, he drove towards the motorcycle, and Hilbert and Philebaum fled. Myers pursued the motorcycle for several minutes at a high speed until the motorcycle went off the road at a sharp turn. Hilbert died and Philebaum was left seriously injured.

The plaintiffs brought suit in the state courts of Indiana, combining both the federal and state law claims. They appealed the District Court's ruling that summary judgment was appropriate with respect to Myers. The court cites County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998) as largely controlling. The Fourth Amendment seizure does not occur during a police chase unless an officer intentionally and forcibly halts the fleeing subject. The court cites Brower v. County of Inyo. The District Court ruled the argument Myers struck the motorcycle was "unsupported speculation" and the 7th Circuit agreed.

The appellants argue the history of antagonism between Myers and Hilbert should be considered; however, the court finds it would only allow an inference about whether a collision would have been intentional - and no evidence exists proving a collision.

Under the 14th Amendment, the District Court found Myers conduct did not rise to the level of shocking the conscience, which was established by the Lewis case.

"The question for us, therefore, is whether there is sufficient evidence of some intent to harm that goes beyond the traffic stop, the decision to pursue, and the decision to not terminate the pursuit at some point before the crash," Judge Kanne wrote. "We find no evidence of that intent."

Judge Kanne states the Supreme Court has set the bar very high in pursuing 14th Amendment claims that arise out of a police chase, and even if the court questions Myers was negligent, reckless, or deliberately indifferent, under standards set by Lewis, those questions are to be determined for state courts and the law of tort.

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  1. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

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  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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