Appeals court finds Harris County officer immune from personal liability in crash

By Glenn Minnis | Jun 20, 2017

HOUSTON – The Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas has affirmed a lower court’s decision in favor of a Harris County constable charged with allegedly injuring a woman and her two young children while chasing a fleeing motorist.

HOUSTON – The Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas has affirmed a lower court’s decision in favor of a Harris County constable charged with allegedly injuring a woman and her two young children while chasing a fleeing motorist.

Jaclynn Martinez sued the county stemming from an incident where she was struck by a Harris County officer and pushed into a tractor-trailer that was behind her. She had filed at a suit against Harris County over negligence allegations.

According to court documents, the incident began whena Houston Police Department motorcycle officer gave chase of a fleeing vehicle.

Soon after the chase commenced, Harris County Deputy Constable C. Johnson observed the situation and took over the pursuit, in keeping with local department procedures stipulating that when an officer in a patrol car sees an officer on a motorcycle engaged in a high-speed pursuit the officer in the patrol vehicle is required to take over, the suit states.

The chase went on for several minutes and Johnson's car struck Jaclynn Martinez's car, who was stopped for a red light at the intersection of Telephone Road and Woodridge Drive. At no point did the second officer giving pursuit have any knowledge of what the chase stemmed from because the two departments involved use of a different communication system, the suit states.

Throughout the lengthy proceedings, the county largely based its defense on a theory that governmental immunity shielded the department and the officer from any such litigation. In seeking a summary judgment, county officials also relied heavily on the testimony of former San Antonio police officer Albert Ortiz.

In a sworn affidavit, Ortiz revealed he had been an officer for nearly 34 years, including time as a chief of police. He added he found the actions taken by Johnson in electing to pursue the fleeing vehicle to be reasonable and consistent with policy.

In the end, the court seemingly agreed, concluding that the county conclusively established that the officer behind the wheel “acted in good faith when, pursuant to policies established to promote the safety of law.”

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