8/26/2011Kentucky: Federal Court Allows Suit Against Cop Who Rammed Motorcyclist
Federal appeals court rules cop can be sued for ramming motorcyclist over a speeding ticket.
The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Monday allowed a lawsuit to proceed against a police officer who rammed and killed a motorcyclist who did not stop to receive a speeding ticket. Thomas Brian Germany, 26, was riding his 2004 black Harley Davidson on March 22, 2008 at midnight when he passed by a Scottsville Police officer on Highway 31E. The officer claimed he clocked Germany at 70 MPH in a 55 zone.
When Germany did not stop, a five-minute pursuit ensued with speeds never exceeding 60 MPH and the only other alleged traffic infraction involved running a red light. Allen County Deputy Danny Davis had heard what was happening on his police radio and took the lead after Germany left the city limits. Germany turned into an empty field. Forensic evidence shows Davis intentionally rammed Germany, and his 2008 Ford Crown Vic patrol car ran over and crushed the fallen biker.
Germany's relatives, including his minor son, sued Davis for excessive use of force, claiming, among other things, that Davis had smoked marijuana before the pursuit. A Kentucky State Police conducted an investigation at the scene confirmed some questionable conduct may have been involved.
"While speaking with Deputy Davis, I began to fill out the blood kit," Trooper Chad Smith wrote in his incident report. "Deputy Davis then asked if the blood kit was for him, in which I replied yes. Deputy Davis then stated 'I am not going to pass that.' Deputy Davis stated he has been going through a hard time and has 'done some things he shouldn't have.'"
The three-judge appellate panel was asked to decide whether Davis deserved immunity from prosecution for his actions in enforcing the law that night. The 2007 Supreme Court case Scott v. Harris authorized the use of lethal force in certain high-speed chases.
"Here, Germany posed no immediate threat to anyone as he rode his motorcycle across an empty field in the middle of the night in rural Kentucky," Judge Raymond M. Kethledge wrote for the majority. "That fact, among others, renders this case patently distinguishable from Scott v. Harris in which Harris had led the police on a 'Hollywood-style car chase of the most frightening sort, placing police officers and innocent bystanders alike at great risk of serious injury.' The chase here was a sleeper by comparison."
The appellate court found that Germany's constitutional rights were violated and that it was up to a jury to decide whether the actions of Davis that night were intentional.