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Texas: Fleeing suspects should get jail time

By Becky Purser   

If you run from the cops, you better be ready to do some serious time in jail - at least in Houston County.

District Attorney Kelly Burke said he is requiring his prosecutors to seek jail time for anyone who flees from police and places the general public at risk.

"The main reason is it just puts innocent lives at risk when people flee from the simple act of being arrested," Burke said. "There's no excuse for running from arrest, because there's a very capable and well-funded judicial system to address wrongs. And so instead of fleeing, the person should stop and not put people at risk and submit to the authorities."

The act of fleeing creates a problem for law enforcement officers who immediately are faced with deciding whether to pursue - risking danger to themselves and to the public to enforce the law.

"My intention by this policy is to make it clear, that if you flee, we will prosecute you and seek jail time," Burke said. "For the simple act of fleeing, we're going to do that. We may or may not be successful, but we're sure going to try."

Just this past week, Burke attempted to get significant prison time - up to five years for each of three counts of fleeing - for a Fort Valley man who fled Warner Robins police attempting to arrest him on a warrant for a burglary charge.

A Houston County Superior Court judge threw out the fleeing charges against 34-year-old Michael Shaw Crabb because Burke was unable to prove that Crabb knew that police had a warrant for his arrest.

The defense argued that Crabb didn't know the men - dressed all in black late in the night - were police officers.

The police were not in uniform but were wearing dark-colored clothing with "POLICE" on the front when they tried to arrest him May 18 at a hotel off Ga. 247.

Crabb, who was eventually arrested 12 weeks later, was accused of attempting to run one of the officers down with his vehicle.

The jury, after deliberating more than three hours Friday, found Crabb not guilty of assault on a police officer but guilty of a lesser charge of reckless conduct.

Angie Coggins, a Houston County public defender who represented Crabb, said she is opposed to the district attorney's mandate to go after jail time anytime a suspect flees from police.

"I think every case is different and every case should be considered case by case, fact by fact, client by client," Coggins said.

The burglary charge against Crabb is still pending and will be prosecuted at a later date, Burke said.

In another recent case, two young Warner Robins men - Henry Lee Stubbs III, 19, and Mathis Lee Ward Jr., 17 - were convicted of attempted armed robbery of a woman in the Wal-Mart parking lot and of carjacking a truck a few hours earlier.

Both men received additional prison time for fleeing from police on top of an already lengthy sentence for the attempted armed robbery and carjacking, Burke said. Ward was sentenced to more than 70 years in prison, and Stubbs was given life in prison plus 32 years.

Burke said the threat of additional prison time is important because it gives law enforcement another tool when dealing with fleeing suspects - especially for agencies, such as Warner Robins police, who only give chase if the fugitive is suspected of a serious crime.

"It's a tough call to chase or don't chase," Burke said. "I can see arguments both ways, but I want to make certain ... when he's caught, we're going to do something about it."

Warner Robins Police Chief Brett Evans said his department's policy allows for police pursuits only when the individuals fleeing are suspected of the most violent offenses - murder, rape, armed robbery, kidnapping and car jacking.

Evans issued a special order Jan. 22, 2004, that: "Effective immediately, you will not initiate and/or be involved in any vehicle pursuit which does not involve a forcible felony."

The chief said he weighed the lives of the innocent bystanders who might get caught up in a chase, his officers and the lives of offenders with the need to capture offenders who flee.

"I don't want to be the one to tell someone that their child or their aunt or their grandparent was killed after a police chase for a red-light violator or for a speeding violation," Evans said.

Evans said there's no doubt that drunken drivers and motorists driving on a suspended license need to be removed from the city's streets. But he's not going to pursue such violators if they flee.

"If you take a DUI driver in a chase situation, have you made the situation better or have you made the situation worse?" Evans said. "It's imperative to get those types of drivers off the road, but if they are already impaired, are they more likely to to cause more damage and injury at a high rate of speed? You need to defend the public. Then again, you don't want to be an escalating factor that makes the harm take place."

Sometimes the offenders are known to police, Evans noted, and can be picked up at later.

Other law enforcement agencies in the area have discretionary pursuit policies, leaving the decision on whether to pursue up to individual officers.

Officers receive, at a minimum, training in high-speed chases as part of required training, and many agencies provide for additional training.

"Essentially our deputies, who have undergone training, we leave it up to them whether to chase or capture this person who is fleeing them outweighs the inherent dangers of a high-speed chase," said Allison Grant, public information officer of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in Forsyth.

If the public is endangered more by the chase than by what the person is being pursued for, the chase is generally called off, Grant said.

The Georgia State Patrol has a similar policy, said Larry Schnall, a patrol spokesman. Troopers also receive specialized training in high-speed chases, including deployment of various tactics to stop a vehicle, he said.

Troopers are trained in maneuvers to force a car off the road and have tools, such as strips of nails that can be laid out in front of fleeing motorists, to deflate tires, Schnall said.

State patrol policy stresses the importance of troopers exercising "prudence and sound judgment" when determining whether to initiate a chase, Schnall said. A suspect fleeing in the direction of a school zone when the school is about to recess is a "textbook example" of when not to chase, he said.

The state patrol also requires the use of blue lights and sirens during pursuit, Schnall said. If their equipment is not working properly, troopers must call off the chase, he added.

"We're motivated to do the right thing," Schnall said. "We're not a bunch of cowboys out here getting into chases. ... Public safety is the most important thing. If a pursuit becomes too dangerous, troopers terminate the pursuit."

 Macon Telegraph (http://www.macon.com/)

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