JACKSON, Miss (AP) — Mississippi’s top appeals court has determined a police officer recklessly disregarded the safety of pedestrians in 2018 when he drove over the speed limit and crashed into a car.
The Mississippi Court of Appeals issued the 5-4 ruling Tuesday, overturning a judge’s finding in favor of the Oxford officer during an April 2021 bench trial. The appeals judges sent the case back to the lower court to assess damages.
The case stems from a wreck that injured a woman in a car with her child. On a weekday in September 2018, the officer drove to the scene of a crash on a residential road, according to court records. The officer’s car reached 92 mph (148 kph) at its peak and crossed a pedestrian crosswalk at 73 mph (117 kph) in a 30 mph (48 kph) zone. He eventually struck a pedestrian’s car, causing it to spin.
The pedestrian and her child were taken by ambulance to the hospital. They were discharged the same day, and the mother was later referred to physical therapy by her physician for a shoulder injury. In October 2019, she filed a complaint to recover damages for injuries suffered in the collision.
The officer wrote in his written report that he “was still going at a high rate of speed and… did not slow down enough to fully clear the intersection” before he struck the pedestrian.
During the bench trial, Lafayette County Circuit Judge Gray Tollison noted that the officer was using his flashing lights, siren and air horn to alert motorists, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.
But Judge Latrice Westbrooks, who wrote the Court of Appeals majority opinion, said the case includes “overwhelming evidence that (the officer) acted in reckless disregard to the general safety of the public.” The collision with the pedestrian as the patrol car was driving over the speed limit in the middle of an intersection showed the officer’s failure to comply with public safety policies, the judge wrote.
“We find that the minimal precaution of turning on lights and sirens does not give an officer a free pass to engage in other actions that show a reckless disregard for the safety of others when responding to an emergency,” Westbrooks said.
Judge Anthony N. Lawrence III wrote in his dissent that the lower court judge correctly “balanced the officer’s use of the tools available to him to ensure a quick response to a serious accident against the need for public safety.”