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Cops examining whether officer followed rules

By Joseph Altman Jr.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 30, 1999
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In Tuesday's Arizona Daily Wildcat article, "Cops examining whether officer followed rules," Tucson Police Department Sgt. Judy Altieri's name was misspelled.

University police are trying to determine whether Friday night's brief chase that ended with the death of a 20-year-old Tucson man fits the department's definition of a "pursuit."

University of Arizona Police Department policy states, "No officer shall pursue a fleeing vehicle solely for a traffic violation."

Officer Jason Kingman, however, gave chase after seeing a red 1986 Ford Mustang run a red light at North Campbell Avenue and East Sixth Street, police said.

Twenty-seven seconds later, the Mustang ran a stop sign at East Eighth Street and North Tucson Boulevard and was struck by a minivan. The Mustang's driver, Samuel I. Morales, died at the scene.

University police are trying to determine if Kingman followed department policy while trying to stop Morales.

One remaining question is whether the brief incident had evolved into a chase regulated by UAPD's seven-page vehicle pursuit policy, said Cmdr. Brian Seastone, a university police spokesman.

"It is still under review," Seastone said. "The policy deals with pursuits. This (policy) does not apply to trying to make a traffic stop."

It was unknown if Morales intended to elude police, and little information about the investigation was available yesterday.

UAPD's pursuit policy requires officers to consider traffic volume, time of day, weather conditions and the type of offense committed when deciding whether to pursue a vehicle. University police officers initiate pursuits "very infrequently" - less than 12 times per year, Seastone said.

He said UAPD's policy is more restrictive than that of other agencies, like the Pima County Sheriff's Department, because UAPD operates in a more densely populated environment.

"It depends on the danger to the public, the amount of people in the area, traffic, all of that," Seastone said.

Sheriff's department policy allows deputies to pursue fleeing suspects for any reason, including traffic violations, said Sgt. Brad Foust, a sheriff's spokesman.

UAPD's policy states pursuits are justified only when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect presents an immediate threat of death or serious injury to others.

The document also states that officers can give chase if a suspect has committed or is attempting to commit a serious felony, or "when the necessity of immediate apprehension outweighs the level of danger created by a pursuit."

"More and more agencies, for liability reasons, are really forbidding pursuits," Foust said. "We have not done that. We pretty much pursue for anything. We'll at least initiate the pursuit."

Sheriff's department policy only requires deputies to stop pursuing in cases of non-violent crimes when the offender's identity is known, or if the deputy loses sight of the suspect for an extended period.

Deputies must also end a chase if there is no chance of catching up to the suspect, or if an equipment problem increases the risk of continuing the pursuit.

"If further pursuit is futile, we're not going to continue on like the Dukes of Hazard or something like that," Foust said.

But in all other cases, the decision to continue a pursuit is up to the deputy or his supervisor, based on weather and traffic conditions and other risk factors, Foust said.

Pursuits that begin after simple traffic violations often lead to illegal immigrants or drug trafficking arrests, he said.

"We've even discovered people bound and tied, ready to be murdered in the desert," he said. "It's not that often you can say, 'Hey, that guy just killed somebody.'"

Foust said, however, that he recognized the risks faced by departments with more urban territory, like UAPD or the Tucson Police Department.

"In a university setting or downtown Tucson, by the time they (bystanders) realize what's going on, it's on top of them," he said.

TPD's policy allows pursuits only when the person being chased is suspected of a felony like aggravated assault, murder or kidnapping, said Sgt. Judi Altieri, a spokeswoman.

Tucson police officers are not allowed to pursue suspects in property crimes such as theft.

"Whenever we're pursuing, we've got to weigh whatever the offender has done with the risk to the public," Altieri said. "We're making those decisions as the pursuit goes on."

Statistics for pursuits initiated by Tucson police were not available last night.

The sheriff's department initiates about 10 pursuits every month, Foust said. Most of those end when the suspects abandon their vehicles and try to run, he said.

Several pursuits across the country in the last decade have ended in the deaths of innocent motorists, sparking debates about the value of chasing elusive suspects. Such cases, however, have not had an impact on local policies, Foust said.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May ruled that police cannot be sued under federal law for accidents resulting from pursuits unless the officer clearly intended to cause injury.