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High-Speed Chases and Bystander Injury

High-Speed Chases and Bystander Injury
Innocent bystanders are sometimes the unwitting victims of high-speed chases on Nevada roads. Fleeing suspects can drive well above the speed limit, often recklessly moving in and out of lanes, sometimes even moving in front of oncoming traffic. Police officers who give chase are faced with a difficult choice: end the pursuit and allow the dangerous suspect to escape or continue the chase even if it creates risk for the public. Bystanders who are injured during a high-speed chase can sue the suspect for damages, but can they also sue the police department?

Suing the suspect

A suspect in a high-speed chase bears responsibility for the property damage and personal injuries caused during the course of a pursuit. In the context of a civil trial, the reckless nature of a high-speed chase, in which the suspect drives with complete disregard for the safety of other people on the road, will often support a claim of gross negligence against the suspect. In the criminal proceeding that follows a high-speed chase a court may order the suspect to pay restitution to injured bystanders. The restitution that forms part of a criminal sentence is limited to damages that are relatively easy to account for: medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and estimated costs of future treatment. A criminal court can’t order restitution for subjective kinds of damages, like pain and suffering or psychological trauma associated with an accident. A civil lawsuit needs to be filed against the suspect to recover for these types of injuries. The problem with lawsuits against a criminal suspect (or a convict) is that an individual often lacks the financial resources to compensate an injured plaintiff for the full scope of his or her injuries. The defendant’s auto insurance policy probably disclaims liability for intentionally tortious acts, leaving only the defendant’s personal assets available for plaintiffs to collect against.

Sovereign immunity limits suits against police departments

The relatively deep pockets of a police department may tempt injured victims to consider a lawsuit against the officers involved in the chase, as well as their employer. But Nevada law limits the liability of the state and its subdivisions, including the police departments of counties and cities. Under NRS 41.032, officers and their employing departments are immune from civil lawsuits for damages arising from an officer’s “exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty.” The Nevada Supreme Court has defined a “discretionary act” as an action that “requires personal deliberation, decision, and judgment.” Maturi v. Las Vegas Metro. Police Dep’t, 110 Nev. 307, 309 (1994). The decision to pursue a fleeing suspect, being at the discretion of the pursuing officer, will often fall into this definition. An exception for sovereign immunity can apply where an officer deliberately causes an injury, or where the officer behaves in a completely reckless manner. Sovereign immunity probably wouldn’t apply if an officer plowed through a crowd of bystanders to get to a fleeing suspect. Fortunately, such cases are rare. Note that even in such circumstances punitive damages are not available in civil suits against state or local agencies. NRS 41.032.

Consult with a personal injury lawyer

The attorneys at the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have broad experience with personal injury cases in the Las Vegas area. We work with both citizens and first responders to resolve legal problems with professionalism and care. For a free attorney consultation, call us at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.

Workers’ Comp Lessons for Off-Duty Police Officers from the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting

Workers’ Comp Lessons for Off-Duty Police Officers from the Route 91 Harvest Festival Shooting
When the shooting started at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1, off-duty police officers at the scene became a heroic part of the effort to get concert-goers to safety. Hundreds of off-duty officers from California were attending the festival, and many of them were injured in the course of their efforts. Now they are finding that their home agencies are denying their workers’ compensation claims due to the way California’s laws are worded.

The reason California officers’ workers’ comp claims are being denied

The issue for the injured California officers is that California’s labor code specifies that workers’ compensation coverage only extends to off-duty injuries that occur within California. Section 3600.2(a) of the California Labor Code provides that benefits will be provided to any off-duty officer who is injured while engaged “in the apprehension or attempted apprehension of law violators or suspected law violators, or protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of peace anywhere in this state . . .” (emphasis added). Orange County has rejected four officers’ claims on grounds that the statute leaves no room for covering actions outside the state, and other jurisdictions are weighing the issue. Litigation is expected to follow, and members of California’s legislature are discussing bills to extend coverage to the injured officers. There are concerns that the proposed “fixes” would only cover short-term care, and not things like long term disability.

Workers’ compensation considerations for off-duty Nevada officers

Nevada’s workers’ compensation laws do not have the kind of geographical limitation that California’s laws impose. To receive workers’ compensation benefits for an injury a Nevada police officer is required only to show that the injury “arose out of and in the course of his or her employment.” NRS 616C.150. The central question for first responders, then, is whether their off-duty actions to protect the public fall within the scope of their employment duties. Officers should take a moment to look at their department’s specific policies and collective bargaining agreements to understand how off-duty situations are defined. For example, the section 2.37.01 of the North Las Vegas Police Department Policy Manual provides that off-duty officers “will always be subject . . . to emergency requests for assistance from citizens.” Under this language, an off-duty officer responding to an emergency is acting under department policy and therefore any injury suffered as a consequence would likely be “in the course of employment.” An important question for North Las Vegas officers is whether responding to emergencies outside the department’s jurisdiction still qualifies. From a public policy standpoint, no law enforcement agency wants to discourage its first responders from offering assistance when their skills and training can help keep the public safe. But as the Route 91 aftermath has shown, an injured officer can find recovering for off-duty injuries involves an unexpected legal fight.

GGRM serves the Las Vegas police community

In these complex and dangerous times, our police officers can face difficult questions that don’t have clear answers, especially in emergencies. For more than 40 years the attorneys at GGRM have served the legal needs of the Las Vegas first responder community. Our attorneys are happy to talk to officers about how workers’ compensation covers off-duty situations. Call us at 702-388-4476, or request a consultation through our website.

Is Verbal Abuse Against Police Officers Protected?

Is Verbal Abuse Against Police Officers Protected

Since the Supreme Court decision in City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451 (1987), the courts have extended significant First Amendment protections to an individual’s right to verbally “oppose or challenge police actions,” so long as the conduct in question does not amount to “physical obstruction” (quotes from the Supreme Court’s holding in City of Houston v. Hill). In 2015, this issue reemerged in Washington v. E.J.J., a decision by the Washington Supreme Court.

Essentially, the court held that the “offensive speech” of an arrestee was protected under the First Amendment. The incident in question took place in the context of the arrest of an intoxicated resident of a house. Police had arrived and attempted to calm the resident down. Meanwhile, another resident of the house told officers not to use a nightstick on another individual involved in the altercation because she was his sister. After being led away from the scene, this individual became irate and began yelling profanities at the officers.

At some point the individual was told that he was engaging in obstruction; following that, he was then arrested on the charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer. The Washington Supreme Court, however, found that the individual who was arrested had the right to criticize how the police were handling the situation. The court stated that "obstruction statutes may not be used to limit citizens' rights to express verbal criticism, even abusive criticism, at police officers." The court also held that the arrestee had the right to direct profanity at officers so long as he did not physically interfere with the officers.

While this decision applied only to Washington state law, it is illustrative in showing how courts continue to uphold the legacy of City of Houston v. Hill. These decisions are illustrative in that they can help guide how law enforcement officers ought to react to profanity and provocation from citizens. In situations like these, it’s important to remember that First Amendment protections do extend to citizens voicing their displeasure to police officers.

For decades GGRM has been representing Las Vegas’s finest. Our experience and passion make us the premier Las Vegas law firm for police officers in need of legal representation or consultation. Visit our contact page to learn more and get in touch with one of our attorneys

Implications of Cell Phone Cameras for Police Officers

s of Cell Phone Cameras for Police Officers

While police officers are like everyone in that they own and carry around smartphones for personal use, in recent years smartphones have increasingly become a part of an officer’s professional equipment. They can be used to call in reports, email witnesses, and take pictures of crime and accident scenes. However, they also bring with them potential issues and complications that police officers should be aware of.

There is no question that smart phones bring with them significant benefits for law enforcement officers. A smart phone can be an invaluable tool while an officer is on patrol. One of its main pros in this context is that it gives an officer the ability to communicate with individuals who don’t have access to a radio; it also serves as a backup communication device in case the radio signal is compromised. Smart phones also give officers access to real time information via the internet that can be utilized during disasters or community events. Smart phones also give any officer the capability to take relatively high quality photos at crime scenes that can then be used in subsequent investigations. Officers at the scene can also pass along pictures of suspects and vehicles to their counterparts on patrol. Smart phone cameras can also be used during disturbances to help disperse crowds and provide evidence later of what the conditions on the ground were like. On the other hand, smart phones can act as a potentially dangerous distraction to officers on duty. They can adversely affect situational awareness, or even cause an officer to momentarily lose sight of a suspect. A significant legal pitfall is the potential for officers’ posts and tweets to be used in court to attack their credibility. Ill-advised social media posts can also hurt community relations, or even ruin an officer’s career. Another common issue is the use of smart phones while officers are driving their vehicles. Many states have enacted legislation that prohibits using smart phones while driving; however, in states like California officers have been exempted from this law. Oftentimes this is something that is regulated on the department level. Many departments have embraced the new technology by issuing their officers smart phones, but forbid their use while driving. This is indicative of the give and take approach police forces across the country are taking with this and other emerging technologies. GGRM is proud of our long and distinguished record advocating on the behalf of public employees. Our attorneys love doing it, and are exceptionally good at it. Whether you need legal representation immediately or would just like to speak with an attorney, give us a call at 702-388-4476.

Administrative Investigations Explained

Administrative Investigations Explained

When a police officer has an allegation of wrongdoing made against them, he or she is understandably anxious to understand what is going on and take the appropriate steps. One of the most stressful parts of the process is when an officer has to testify as part of the investigation. At this point, it is strongly advised that the officer consult with an attorney who has experience specific to administrative investigations. Here are some key points police officers subject to an administrative investigation should keep in mind when preparing for the investigative process.

  • Confine answers to the scope of the question being asked. When an officer is asked a question as part of the investigation, he or she should answer directly and honestly. However, the best course is generally to not add additional testimony or justifications. It is not advisable for the officer to volunteer information or answers that were not requested, as this is not necessary and can often do more harm than good.
  • Remain calm and collected throughout the process. Do not be defensive. Maintaining one’s composure during the proceedings can be a huge benefit. Taking a defensive or aggressive posture can weaken the officer’s testimony and undermine their credibility.
  • When it comes to testimony, there is no such thing as over preparing. Before testifying, an officer should carefully review any and all relevant evidence, reports, documentation, witness accounts. Know the facts of the case or incident inside and out, and be prepared to answer hard questions.
  • In conjunction with number 1, keep answers succinct and on point. Simple yes or no answers can oftentimes be the most effective and appropriate.
  • Don’t neglect your appearance. Make sure that your dress, grooming, etc. help your credibility rather than undermine it.
Finally, administrative investigations are not something you need to or should go through alone. Consult with an experienced attorney you can trust to passionately and competently represent your interests. For decades GGRM has been representing Las Vegas’s finest. Our experience and passion make us the premier Las Vegas law firm for police officers in need of legal representation or consultation. Visit our contact page to learn more and get in touch with one of our attorneys.

What Police Officers Need to Know About Giglio v. United States

What Police Officers Need to Know About Giglio v. United States

Giglio material (or Giglio information) is a well-known term among law enforcement, but there is often confusion over how and when it applies. Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150is a 1972 Supreme Court case involving the prosecution’s obligations in regards to criminal discovery and disclosure. Prior to Giglio, the Supreme Court had found in Brady v. Maryland that due process is violated when the prosecution “withholds evidence on demand of an accused which, if made available, would tend to exculpate him or reduce the penalty.” In Giglio, the Court went further and held that all impeachment evidence falls under the Brady holding. This means that the prosecution is obligated to disclose all information or material that may be used to impeach the credibility of prosecution witnesses (including situations where police officers act as witnesses for the prosecution).

The Brady and Giglio precedents require police officers to be especially careful to avoid any actions or statements that could compromise their credibility. The prosecution is legally required to disclose any misconduct or compromising information regarding the witness to the defense attorney, who will then use it to impeach the law enforcement witness on the stand. The end result can be the loss of what would have been a strong case. A common problem across police departments and other law enforcement agencies is a failure to consistently provide local prosecutor’s with credibility information. Often, internal politics end up determining who is reported to the prosecutor’s office as unreliable and who is not. In response, some departments have tried to institute strict truthfulness policies and terminate officers who violate them. Others will attempt to place the officer in an administrative assignment. The issue with both of these solutions is that police departments will inevitably act without any legal guidance and fail to follow the case law. In Nevada, state law defers to the Brady and Giglio standard in regards to prosecutorial disclosure. NRS 174.235 states that “the provisions of this section are not intended to affect any obligation placed upon the prosecuting attorney by the Constitution of this state or the Constitution of the United States to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defendant.” This obligation does not apply only to prosecutors. It has also been found that Brady and Giglio do not apply only to the prosecution. In United States v. Blanco (an appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada), the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stated: “The obligation under Brady  and Giglio is the obligation of the government, not merely the obligation of the government.” In this case, the DEA had refused to provide information to the prosecution. Even though the prosecution had exercised due diligence by requesting that the DEA send over all Brady and Giglio material, due process was still violated by the DEA’s refusal to turn over exculpatory evidence. The Ninth Circuit held that the government, not just the prosecution, had obligations under Brady and Giglio. Police officers should be aware of the basic issues surrounding Giglio so they can fulfill their own obligations under the law and avoid compromising a criminal case. A memorandum from the office of the U.S. Attorney for Nevada provides AUSAs with questions they can ask potential law enforcement witnesses to determine if there are any Giglio issues. A good practice for police officers would be to periodically consider what their own answers would be to the following questions:
  • If the witness is aware of any specific instances of misconduct, both within and outside the scope of his or her employment, that may bear on the witness’ credibility (including the finding of a lack of candor during any administrative inquiry)
  • If the witness has any pending allegations of misconduct with his or her employing agency
  • If the witness has ever had criminal charges filed against him or her, regardless of the outcome of the charges
  • If the witness is aware of any evidence suggesting his or her bias against the target, subject or defendant
  • If the witness is aware of any findings of misconduct, allegations or pending investigations of misconduct similar to circumstances or potential defenses in the case (such as, coercion, entrapment, mishandling of evidence or use of force)
  • If the witness is aware of any prior findings by a court concerning the witness that may impact on the witness’ credibility
  • If the witness is aware of any negative allegations or opinions about the witness’ reputation or character that have been in media stories or otherwise publicly aired
Our experience and passion make us the premier firm in Nevada for representing law enforcement and other public employees. Give us a call at 702-388-4476 to schedule a consultation.