The family of a Columbus coach killed in a 2016 police chase is seeking a change in pursuit policy
The family of a Carver High School coach was murdered in A 2016 crash involving a suspect Columbus police were pursuing Urges the city to change police prosecution policies and purchase liability insurance.
That was the message attorney Katunga Wright delivered Wednesday at a news conference with the family of Carver baseball coach David Pollard, who was fatally injured on April 18, 2016.
Wright sued the city on behalf of Adrienne Pollard, the coach’s widow. The lawsuit was initially filed in federal court before Wright dropped it and refiled it in 2019 in Muskogee state court.
State Court Judge Andy Prather ruled on August 1 that the city was not entitled to immunity from Pollard’s claim, but allowed the city to appeal.
The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld Prather’s decision and remanded the case for trial, Wright said. But no date has been set.
Initial family claim Against the city, it sought $13 million. Because the city is self-insured, rather than purchasing liability insurance for such claims, it has capped those payments at $500,000, Wright said.
“The lawsuit is still out there for over a million,” Wright said Wednesday.
Adrienne Pollard said the amount of the claim is not her main concern.
“I thought this number wasn’t really important to me, but accountability is important,” she said.
Pressing for changes in pursuit policy, Wright said news media reports show that 5,000 people were killed in police pursuits from 1979 to 2013, and that half of those killed were not people the police were pursuing.
“Most of the pedestrians were killed in their cars by a fleeing driver,” she told reporters on Wednesday. She said that often, chases start over minor traffic violations.
Now that Columbus has a new police chief and sheriff, we should take another look at stalking policies, she said.
“We ask that our local stalking policies be evaluated and reconsidered,” she said, later adding:
“To help prevent other tragic and senseless deaths, we are asking the Chief of Police and the Chief of Police to adopt a policy that officers are not permitted to engage in a vehicle pursuit in order to subdue a fleeing suspect who poses no imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
Police pursuits for property crimes, misdemeanors, traffic violations or civil crimes are “particularly prohibited,” she said, adding that Atlanta allows police pursuits only when the threat of death is imminent.
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson issued this statement regarding the Pollard case Wednesday afternoon:
“The performance of Columbus Police officers in this matter was appropriate. Coach Pollard’s tragic accident was a direct result of the grossly negligent actions of the party who stole a vehicle and recklessly fled. The case awaits trial in state court and the city will be vigorously defended.
The city has hired attorneys from the Columbus firm of Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford to defend it in the lawsuit.
Muskogee Sheriff Greg Countryman said he respects Wright’s position in representing her client, but declined to comment on the case.
What is the police pursuit policy?
Police Chief Stoney Mathis also declined to comment on Wright’s requests, saying he has already reviewed the department’s pursuit policy since taking the position earlier this year.
The new policy states that officers may only pursue suspects who have committed or are likely to commit a forcible felony, such as murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery or a similar violent crime.
It also says officers “should not unnecessarily put other people at risk,” and should consider whether traffic conditions present that risk during times of “a high level of business, school or other activity.”
The law states that police officers in unmarked police vehicles equipped with lights and sirens may only pursue suspects who pose an “immediate or direct threat to life or property.”
She says a pursuit should be called off not only when it endangers other motorists, but when the suspect has been identified and can later be arrested, the suspect has outrun police and cannot be arrested, or the police car is unsafe.
Below are excerpts from the previous policy, as stated in A A review of fatal police prosecutions in 2017:
“It is the policy of the Columbus Police Department that a vehicle pursuit is justified only when the necessity of an immediate arrest outweighs the level of danger created by the pursuit.”
Supervisors are tasked with canceling any pursuits deemed too dangerous.
“The unit sergeant must continually review information received to determine whether the pursuit should be continued or terminated….The pursuit officer must continually consider the risks resulting from the pursuit. He should not unnecessarily endanger others.”
The man police were hunting before the fatal crash was William C. Cross, who pleaded guilty in the criminal case in September 2019.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for vehicular homicide, carjacking, hit-and-run, fleeing police and obstructing officers.
The judge said Cross caused a “senseless tragedy,” noting that Cross not only led police on a chase in a stolen vehicle, but ran a red light and then fled the scene at Buena Vista Road and Morris Road.
Cross was 19 years old at the time and had no criminal record.
During Cross’s sentencing, Pollard’s sister, Kimberly Rinder, said her brother tried to mentor students like Cross. “Many say you are the type of student who has been working hard to help,” she told him.
Pollard was buying school supplies That was the day he died, prosecutors said.
He was going through a green light on Morris Road at Buena Vista Road about 1 p.m. when his Chevy Impala T-shaped was on the driver’s side next to a westbound 2007 Audi A8 that Cross was driving.
The 36-year-old coach died at the scene from blunt force trauma.
Investigators initially had no idea who had stolen the Audi from a home in the 1800 block of Somerset Street. Neighbors saw the thief take the car, tracked it, took a photo of the driver and called police.
They followed him on Interstate 185 to Buena Vista Road, where Officer Walter Haywood began pursuing him, with Cross reaching speeds of about 80 mph during heavy lunchtime traffic. Haywood decided the road was too busy to continue the pursuit, and broke off.
Officer Isaac Neal then saw the Audi heading west on Buena Vista Road and made a U-turn. The city later claimed that Neal did not join the chase, but merely turned around to return to the police station to file reports.
Although Cross initially escaped, he left behind evidence that enabled police to track him down and eventually arrest him. On May 2, 2016.