At the conclusion of a five-day jury trial on May 18, 2018, a twelve-person jury in Santa Fe County awarded Arlena Jackson $1,262,849.13 to compensate her for medical expenses and pain and suffering arising out of an accident which occurred on April 7, 2016 when she was hit by a fleeing felon who was being pursued by the Santa Fe Police Department. The SFPD received a high priority dispatch call concerning criminal activity at the Los Pueblos Apartments, a residential complex in Santa Fe known for its high drug and crime history, with information that a fight was in progress, involving four males and one female, with a gun, and children in the area. As officers approached the complex, an individual with a long felony record and passenger in the vehicle, drove at high speeds out of the complex and onto Rufina Street in a new Toyota Tacoma which was stolen from the Toyota of Santa Fe dealership. Officers, appropriately responding to their training and policy guidelines, initiated a 2 minutes and 15 seconds pursuit of the felon over a two-mile period at high speeds. The felon crashed into the Plaintiff, Ms. Jackson, as she was crossing the intersection at Lopez Lane and Aqua Fria Street, sustaining significant injuries including several broken ribs, a punctured lung, fractured pelvis, and a tibia/fibula fracture. She underwent multiple surgeries to repair the rib fractures as well as the left ankle break. Ms. Jackson’s medical expenses totaled $312,849.13.
Plaintiff originally sued, not the felon, but the Toyota of Santa Fe dealership in addition to the SFPD on the theory that the dealership was negligent in allowing overnight access to their car lots knowing that thefts are likely to occur with resulting criminal use of the vehicles. On the eve of trial, Plaintiff settled with the dealership, leaving the SFPD to defend the case as the sole Defendant. The Hatcher Law Group, Scott P. Hatcher and Jonathan D. Woods, provided the defense for the City, arguing the officers acted fully within their training, experience, and policy guidelines in conducting the pursuit. Due to the late settlement of the Toyota dealership, the City also was required to prepare an empty chair defense case against the Toyota of Santa Fe dealership. At the conclusion of trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff judgment in the amount stated, which included separate line items for medical expenses in addition to $950,000.00 for her pain and suffering. The jury allocated fault 50% to the fleeing felon, 40% to the SFPD, and 10% to the dealership. Judgment was entered May 30, 2018. Post-trial motions and any appeal are under review. Mr. Hatcher made a statement to the press which read: “My firm had the opportunity to represent a group of extraordinary police officers who were only doing their duty in an effort to protect the community. Unfortunately, the verdict did not reflect that.”
The defense utilized police consultant Fred Radosevich, as a liability expert at trial.