Jason Allen Siebert, a 32-year-old La Habra resident, died in a Long Beach car crash on December 6, 2008. The accident occurred after a fleeing suspect, who was being chased by police, broadsided Siebert’s vehicle at a Long Beach intersection. According to this news report in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, 22-year-old Cody Brown was involved in a high speed police chase when he struck Siebert’s 1998 BMW at the corner of Redondo Avenue and Fourth Street. Brown is facing charges of vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving, evading law enforcement, impaired driving and other traffic violations.
The incident began when a police officer saw Brown running a red light at Bellflower Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. The chase reached speeds of up to 100 mph on surface streets. Brown was speeding through stop signs and traffic lights. In addition to Siebert’s car, Brown also hit a taxicab whose driver suffered minor injuries. Long Beach officials are apparently investigating the conduct of their own police officials to make sure police protocol was followed during this pursuit.
I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Jason Allen Siebert, who was the unsuspecting victim of this horrific auto accident. Please keep Siebert’s family in your prayers. I’m glad the taxi driver got away with minor injuries. I wish him a speedy recovery.
What angers me about this incident is that, if this newspaper report is accurate, Cody Brown did not seem to have been a dangerous criminal. Yes, he ran a red light and when pursued, drove recklessly and posed a hazard to the driving public. But was it necessary to chase him around the city of Long Beach at 100 mph?
California law provides immunity to police departments that have adopted a “vehicle pursuit policy.” California Vehicle Code Section 17004 states: “A public agency employing peace officers that adopts and promulgates a written policy on, and provides regular and periodic training on an annual basis for, vehicular pursuits … is immune from liability for civil damages for personal injury to or death of any person or damage to property resulting from the collision of a vehicle being operated by an actual or suspected violator of the law who is being, has been, or believes he or she is being or has been, pursued in a motor vehicle by a peace officer employed by the public entity.”
Based on this law, it would seem that the Long Beach Police Department is immune from liability. They don’t have to prove their officers have read or received training pertaining to their pursuit policy. That said, is it fair to Jason Allen Siebert and his family? Driving under the influence is a misdemeanor. Not stopping for a red light is an infraction and a relatively minor traffic violation. Was it fair for this police officer to engage in a high speed pursuit for a minor traffic violation or misdemeanor if he or she was likely to be endangering the public?
When it comes to police pursuits there is a definite need for a balancing test between danger to the public and the need to apprehend a suspect. The seriousness of the suspected offense must be balanced with public safety. Our justice system should not allow peace officers to engage in high-speed chases without weighing the good that comes from catching the suspect against the risk of injury and/or death to members of the public.
Another aspect of this case that concerns me is that the city of Long Beach is investigating its own police department. Based on this news report, it doesn’t appear that another outside agency is involved. I’m concerned about how objective their investigation would be of themselves. If I were a member of Jason Siebert’s family, I would be talking to an experienced Southern California auto accident attorney to see how I can protect my legal rights and make sure that a fair investigation is conducted.