Williams/Hollingshead v. City of Baytown

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“Police officers, as professionals, must exercise professional judgment.” – Josh Davis

Houston, Texas (February 5th, 2013) — Today the Williams and the Hollingshead families filed their lawsuit against the City of Baytown and Shannon Joe Chauncey as a result of these defendants’ actions on October 19th, 2012.

Shawn and Shay were friends and coworkers, Shawn had his entire life ahead of him. His death, and Shay’s injuries, are a tragedy – but this lawsuit is designed to expose just how unnecessary the October 19th crash was.

Contrary to the Baytown PD’s many excuses, there is no legitimate reason for us to be here today. Without the Baytown Police Department’s reckless disregard for the public’s safety as they pursued petty thieves we would not be here.

I do want to emphasize that the families know that Shannon Joe Chauncey is also a partially responsible for Shawn’s death and Shay’s injuries. And contrary to some reports, we have sued him for his actions as well. The families fully expect that Chauncey and Jenkins’ criminal case will proceed and they will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

But just like some dogs chase cars, some criminals run from the police. It is the job of our professional police force to make reasoned decisions about the use of force and the pursuit of criminals. When Baytown officers fail to exercise the judicious use of force – putting the Baytown community at extreme risk in the pursuit of shoplifters – and cause serious injury and death, then they are liable under Texas law.

We have heard the excuse that the shoplifters, in the process of fleeing the Academy sporting goods store, hit a Baytown police cruiser, and therefore a 90-mile an hour police chase down Garth Rd., on a busy football Friday night at 10:00 p.m. is appropriate. It is not.

That excuse ignores the fact that the Baytown PD had been conducting surveillance on Chauncey and Jenkins, had identified the criminals as they were in the act of stealing, but nonetheless allowed them to leave the Academy and get in their vehicle. Additionally, the Baytown PD has a general order in place that prohibits running hot in circumstances like these.

That excuse also ignores the district role the laying of the spike strips played in causing the crash.

Without the spike strips, Chauncey advances through the intersection and never hits Shay’s car. There is no doubt Chauncey was absolutely wrong in fleeing police and driving as fast as he was, and certainly Chauncey was a public menace as he sped from police. But his clear path through the intersection means that without the spike strips we are not here. It was the reckless deployment of the spike strips and the disregard for the public safety that caused this particular crash.

The Baytown PD was well aware of the risk that placing the spike strips created – the police report shows that pursuing officers were advised to pull back once the spike strips were deployed, the police did not pull back out of concern for the citizens of Baytown – as the police department previously misrepresented – but because officers were advised to slow down due to the placement of the spike strip at the beginning of the intersection.

Based on the response we have received from counsel representing Baytown we expect this to be a long and drawn out process. We anticipate Baytown PD will use every available legal maneuver to avoid having their actions accounted for and providing recompense to the victims and their families. Baytown PD wants to hide behind the law – but we will not let them. We will obtain as much civil justice as we can out of the hope that this tragedy does not befall another child of this community.

To view a copy of the filing, click here.