23-minute pursuit ends with suspect hitting ‘innocent driver’
CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - As with every law enforcement pursuit, the goal, authorities say, is to stop the bad guy.
However, there comes a point that stopping the runaway driver involves more risk than reward, according to Lowcountry Attorney Jody McKnight, who says his client’s totaled car and personal injuries were the outcome of a dangerous chase.
McKnight filed a lawsuit in August against Charleston and Berkeley County Sheriff’s Offices following a high-speed pursuit involving the two agencies. His client was rammed into by a suspect during a high-speed chase, dashcam footage from the sheriff’s office shows.
“The police are good people,” McKnight, Owner of McKnight Law Firm in Mount Pleasant, said. “They are doing their best to have law and order in our community. These [suspects] are the villains that are running from the police and not stopping. But the police have to make very quick decisions about who this villain is and what the danger is to the community.”
The late-night 23-minute chase from July 15, 2020, started when the suspect failed to use a signal when making a turn and improperly changed lanes – a traffic violation, according to the incident report from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies report the pursuit reached speeds of about 120 miles per hour. The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was called in to respond to the chase, as well, when the suspect crossed jurisdictions.
“If it’s just a traffic violation, and that’s all they know, and they go through some significant chase and go through an urban area with a lot of vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists around, that’s problematic,” McKnight says.
From Goose Creek to North Charleston – Berkeley into Charleston County - the chase finally came to an end shortly after the suspect hit McKnight’s client, totaling his car and leaving him with around $12,000 in medical bills. McKnight says his client is continuing to seek treatment two years later.
“Sometimes [deputies] don’t make the right decisions,” McKnight says. “When somebody is hurt and you look at the factors and the chase just didn’t make sense under the circumstances, then they’re subjected to civil liability,” McKnight says.
While McKnight says he is seeking justice for his client, the incident report shows the suspect vehicle was found to have about 1000 grams of marijuana in the car and two legally owned guns. The passenger had two ecstasy tablets in his pocket and an active warrant. While these are crimes in South Carolina, McKnight says the arrests could have been made without a chase.
“Those [chases] are for when there’s an imminent danger involved to the community,” McKnight says. “Is this person dangerous? What do we know? Who is this? Because most people live in our community and they’re not going anywhere.”
Court documents claim the agencies did not follow state law, which calls for authorities to employ a ‘balance test’ of sorts, evaluating the danger created by high-speed pursuits. The lawsuit alleges negligence on behalf of the two sheriff’s offices.
“It could have been much worse,” McKnight says. “Somebody could have been killed. That didn’t happen in this case. Somebody could have suffered horrific life-altering injuries. That didn’t happen in this case. Fortunately.”
McKnight says it is cases like this, however, that will hopefully make authorities think about a pursuit differently next time. He says catching up with a criminal later can sometimes be the safer option. He says ditching the pursuit would have saved his client’s car and trips to the hospital.
When asked for a comment, both the Berkeley and Charleston County Sheriff’s Offices said they cannot comment on pending litigation.
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