A family injured in a collision with a car being chased by Independence Police has filed a lawsuit against the city, officer and fleeing suspect.
Robert Angotti and daughter Sherry Ross were injured the morning of Jan. 26 when James Mathis of Independence slammed into Ross' vehicle at the intersection of Blue Ridge Boulevard and Sterling Avenue. Mathis had been fleeing an Independence police officer trying to stop him for a seat belt violation and ran multiple red lights, including the intersection of the crash.
Angotti and Ross sued Mathis, the city of Independence and the officer who chased Mathis for damages, citing that both Mathis and the officer were negligent and reckless with the chase, which topped 80 mph at one point.
The chase started in a residential area, included Mathis splattering mud onto the officer's windshield as he spun through a yard and went south on Sterling. Mathis had passengers in his pickup truck at the time, including a young child. Ross was westbound on Blue Ridge, driving her father to church, when the truck driven by Mathis broad-sided Ross' vehicle on the passenger side.
Both Angotti and Ross suffered a fractured sternum, and Angotti also suffered injuries to his lung and ribs.
In the suit, the plaintiffs argue that the IPD officer was reckless in continuing a high-speed chase even after he reached a point at which he could have filmed Mathis' license plate and issued a summons later for the seat belt violation.
IPD's pursuit policy allows pursuits for any crime, but notes that “pursuits for traffic violation or for misdemeanors will be avoided or terminated if they pose unnecessary risk to life or property” and that “any pursuit will be discontinued when there clearly is excessive danger to anyone.”
A spokesperson for Independence Police said the department cannot comment on an ongoing case but did confirm that any pursuit by an officers is evaluated afterward by superiors.
In a post made on the Lodge No. 1 Facebook page before the suit was filed, Independence Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Cook said the public's safety is always officers' top priority, and “we are never happy when the actions of those involved in criminal activities result in harm to a citizen.”
But Cook said pursuits are necessary, lest a jurisdiction be targeted by criminals who know they simply don't have to stop and they won't be pursued. He added that he believes IPD officers are skilled in dealing with armed violent criminals on a daily basis and lauded their decision making with whether or not to pursue.
“I would put our officers against anyone's in the country,” he wrote.
Ross' husband and Angotti's wife are also listed as plaintiffs in the suit. A case management conference for the suit has been scheduled for Sept. 11.
Mathis also faces several criminal charges from the crash: two counts of second-degree assault, resisting arrest, possession of a controlled substance and child endangerment. He is scheduled to be arraigned July 10.