A controversial bill that would have protected law enforcement from litigation stemming from high-speed chases has died a slow death.
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, had been the sponsor of SB149, which would protect officers and their agencies when the people they pursue hurt or kill themselves in the process. But the bill was held up for more than two weeks so Adams could work on it, in light of the criticism it’s received — and it became apparent Friday morning that he had taken it off the table.
SB149 was slated for a committee vote Friday morning, but the chairwoman announced it would not be heard.
Critics of the bill worried the bill gave law officers too much freedom to chase anyone anyway they liked, and that it stripped the public of recourse when they felt an officers’ actions were out of line.
Vocal among the critics was Jim McConkie, an attorney who is representing families in two cases in which their loved one died in a pursuit. McConkie has been meeting with Adams to discuss the legislation, and met again with the senator on Thursday.
The first time McConkie met with Adams, he brought a woman who unsuccessfully sued the Weber County Sheriff’s Office for chasing her teenage son, Wayne Torrie. The woman had called police to check on Wayne after he left the house in a huff, but he fled from police in a high-speed pursuit, in which he crashed and died. His mother had told police during the pursuit that her son had said he would rather hurt himself than go to jail.
Although a district judge ruled in favor of the sheriff’s office, McConkie intends to take the case to the Utah Supreme Court.
Then on Thursday, McConkie brought along the mother of Troy Burkinshaw, who was shot and killed last year by a Box Elder County sheriff’s deputy. Burkinshaw fled from a public urination citation and led the deputy on a chase through Corinne. The officer cornered Burkinshaw and got out of his patrol vehicle to arrest him, but wound up shooting Burkinshaw as the man slowly drove toward the retreating officer.
McConkie plans to join another law firm in representing Burkinshaw’s mother in a federal law suit, which he expects will be filed by next month.
Adams said that while he feels bad for the Torrie and Burkinshaw families, his meetings with them had no influence on his decision and that the bill would have not affected their cases.
Adams also gave assurances that under the bill, officers would have still been required to act within the state laws that govern police pursuits. But McConkie interpreted its language as a gutting those laws.
McConkie said he was happy Friday to see that "cooler heads" had shelved the bill. SB149 now moves to an interim committee for further consideration.
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