Appeals Court upholds removal of Pearl police, various officers from chase suit

Published 5:44 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the removal of the Pearl Police Department and about a dozen officers from various law enforcement agencies in Rankin County from a lawsuit stemming from a 2001 pursuit in which three people were killed.

Larry and Linda McCoy of Brandon filed the lawsuit in 2001 against police departments in Pearl, Florence and Richland and the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and the individual officers involved in the pursuit. Killed were their daughter, Robin McCoy, 18; McCoy’s cousin, Dana Lee, 14; and Steven Bledsoe, 17. The three were passengers in a stolen car being pursued on U.S. 49.

The driver, Corey Tate, was sentenced in 2001 to two concurrent, 20-year terms for the deaths of Robin McCoy and Lee. Tate received a 20-year suspended sentence and five years’ supervised probation for the death of Bledsoe.

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Rankin County Circuit Judge William Chapman in 2005 removed the Pearl Police Department from the lawsuit after the McCoy’s attorney said there is no proof Pearl was ever involved in the pursuit.

Motions to dismiss the police departments in Florence and Richland and the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department and Tate from the lawsuit also were granted.

According to the court record, a Florence police officer stopped Tate, driving a stolen Lexus, on Feb. 7, 2001, on U.S. 49 for speeding. Tate told police he sped away at the urging of his passengers after the officer tried to arrest him for driving with a suspended license. As the pursuit was initiated, the officer learned from dispatchers the car had been reported as stolen from Jackson, testimony showed.

The Lexus sped away from the officers. Three miles later, the Lexus flipped near where Richland police were preventing traffic from entering U.S. 49.

Appeals Judge Larry Roberts, writing Tuesday for the court, said Chapman did not err in dismissing the case against the law enforcement agencies.

Roberts said nothing in the case indicated the officers acted with reckless disregard.

He said another factor that went against the McCoys was that the car occupants were participating in a criminal activity.

“When the alleged tortuous act involves police protection, a governmental entity is immune if the decedent was engaged in criminal activity,” Roberts said.

Roberts also said the law enforcement agencies also were protected from lawsuit by the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. MTCA controls all lawsuits for negligence brought against the state or local governments and public officials. The law puts limits on damages that can be sought against a governmental body.

Roberts said the trial judge erred in dismissing the lawsuit against Tate. He said Tate did not file a motion to be removed from the case and could not be dismissed from the lawsuit.