BLOOMINGTON – Jaylin Bones was pedaling his bike on a west side street late one night in September 2017 when a car blew up the stop sign at an intersection two blocks away and sped towards him.
Within moments, despite swerving, the vehicle struck Bones and continued to roll, leaving the teenager unconscious on the sidewalk.
Chasing the vehicle, a stolen black Toyota, was a Bloomington police car.
This accident and the sequence of events leading up to it does not mean the city can be held responsible for Bones’ injuries, a McLean County judge said on Friday.
Eleventh Circuit Judge Paul Lawrence found Bloomington was protected by a clause in the Tort Immunity Act, a state law that extends amenities to municipalities and their employees in various circumstances.
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“This court is certainly aware that this plaintiff is in a difficult position because he was injured by a fleeing driver, certainly through no fault of his own,” Lawrence said Friday after a virtual hearing in one o’clock.
“But this tribunal must make decisions based on law enforcement. This tribunal must not base its decisions on sympathy,” Lawrence said.
The move comes more than two years after Bones – who was 17 at the time of the crash – first filed his lawsuit against the city in May 2019, claiming at least $ 50,000 in damages from the city for “deliberate and gratuitous conduct in the operation. from his official vehicle in the performance of his official police duties.
This conduct included pursuing the stolen vehicle “where the risk of injury or death to the general public outweighed the benefit of apprehending suspects” and the police did not “activate their hazard lights and / or siren during the call. pursuit with a conscious disregard for security. of the general public, ”says the lawsuit.
Bones’ attorney Garrett Browne previously told the Pantagraph that a ruling in favor of the city would be appealed.
The lawyer hired to represent the city, James VanRheeden, could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday afternoon after the hearing.
At the heart of the lawyers’ files and their arguments on Friday was disagreement over how to interpret a section of the law that extends immunity to police officers – and the municipalities they work for – in the cases where injuries result from an “escaped prisoner”. In previous cases, courts have defined “prisoner” as a person “in custody”.
In that case, the “escaped prisoner” was the driver of the stolen car, Damarian Andrews, a minor who was later arrested and pleaded guilty in juvenile court.
Officers involved in the case were BPD Patrol Officers Caleb Zimmerman and Brandt Parsley. Parsley still works for the department, while Zimmerman left in 2018, according to a Pantagraph database of BPD role listings.
Zimmerman first identified the car as a stolen vehicle on September 27, 2019, as it moved west on Washington Street near Allin Street. After Zimmerman requested additional units, the car around 10:30 p.m. turned onto Jefferson Street and pulled to the curb.
Zimmerman, according to dashcam footage and his testimony, pulled his patrol car behind the vehicle and turned on a light in his rearview mirror. At that time, four people got out of the car and one fled on foot.
Zimmerman, after asking the remaining passengers, “How come your boyfriend left?” And telling them to stay there, walks to the back of the vehicle. Within seconds, the driver starts the car and begins to walk away at 10:31 p.m.
Zimmerman walks over to the driver’s side door, tries to open it, and yells at the driver, who accelerates nonetheless.
Within minutes, Parsley identifies and tracks the vehicle onto North Allin Street, where it blows up the Market Street intersection and continues. At 10:32 p.m., the vehicle served, subsequently striking Bones and leaving him injured on Allin Street, between Locust and Chestnut Streets.
VanRheeden, the town’s attorney, said on Friday it was not clear whether Zimmerman ordered the driver to stay in the vehicle after starting it.
Despite this, Zimmerman’s attempts to “regroup”, stand “close” and “chase and grab” the vehicle after it started to pull away “portrayed a picture here, an image where it was evident that the driver was detained and not allowed to leave at the time, ”VanRheeden argued.
It was “clear that the occupant of the vehicle knew on his own that he was not allowed to leave,” VanRheeden argued, trying to demonstrate how the driver was in Zimmerman’s care, and then fled, calling him a “runaway prisoner”.
Browne strongly disagreed with this interpretation, explaining how previous courts have held that “held in custody” means that there must be “some control over (a prisoner’s) freedom of movement” .
Browne further argued that although previous courts have not ruled that it was mandatory to hold someone in custody, Zimmerman did not use the hazard lights on his patrol car.
Zimmerman also “never attempted to touch any of the occupants of the vehicle” and “never touched or showed his weapon”. He also “did not park his patrol car to prevent the vehicle from moving” and “did not place his body to prevent the vehicle from moving.”
Browne also argued that “the whole interaction lasted less than a minute” and that “at no point did (the driver) stop moving,” meaning he was not in Zimmerman’s custody and therefore was not a fugitive within the meaning of the section of the law. .
He concluded that if Lawrence were to rule in favor of the city, the judge would adopt a legal standard “never adopted by any other court”.
Nonetheless, Lawrence sided with the town, finding that Zimmerman’s order to the occupants of the stolen car, including the driver, not to leave the scene was effective, until he did. either not.
The occupants did not immediately flee after Zimmerman’s order, meaning that it is “clear that no reasonable person felt free to leave”, meaning they were in the custody of Zimmerman.
Once the driver left, ignoring Zimmerman’s attempts to stop the vehicle, the driver escaped from custody, calling him a “runaway prisoner”.
“Therefore, the City of Bloomington is immune from all liability under the Tort Immunity Act,” Lawrence said.
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Contact Timothy Eggert at (309) 820-3276. Follow him on Twitter: @TimothyMEggert