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Appeals court reinstates lawsuit against Holly Springs police officer

A federal appeals court has ordered a jury trial in a wrongful death case filed by the family of a man who allegedly died when his vehicle crashed while being pursued by a Holly Springs police officer.

The lawsuit filed by the family of Roy A. Pasco was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Michael Mills in December 2005. On Monday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the case should have gone to trial because of questions raised about the actions of the police officer.

According to the court record, police officer Brad Knoblauch began following a car driven by Pasco on April 29, 2000.

When Pasco ran a stop sign, Knoblauch attempted to make a stop. Although Pasco initially pulled over, when Knoblauch left his patrol car and began to walk over to Pasco’s car, Pasco sped off. Knoblauch returned to his car and began a high speed chase, court records showed.

Knoblauch reported to his dispatcher and was instructed to stop the pursuit, according to the court record.

Knoblauch claimed in court documents that he ended the pursuit as instructed and turned around and headed back toward town. Knoblauch said he met another officer and after conferring with the other officer, he reversed direction and drove around looking for a cross street to pinpoint the location for the county sheriff’s department, which was to continue the pursuit.

Knoblauch said he drove down some long driveways to see if Pasco had pulled into one, noticed the gravel in the road, looked more closely and saw Pasco’s car at the bottom of a ravine alongside the road, according to the court record.

In their lawsuit, Pasco’s family claimed Knoblauch did not break off the pursuit as instructed, intentionally struck Pasco’s car from behind, forcing Pasco’s car off the road and down into the ravine, killing Pasco.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit said the issue that should have been presented to a jury was what was Knoblauch’s intent and whether those actions violated Pasco’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure.

“We conclude that the better course is for a jury to resolve the question of Knoblauch’s intent after hearing all of the evidence, rather than for the court to decide it summarily,” the court said.

Monday’s ruling was issued by a panel of two 5th Circuit judges — W. Eugene Davis and Carl E. Stewart — and U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey of Texas, who was asked to sit in on the case.