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Agency Not Liable For Collision Because Deputies Acknowledged Receipt Of Pursuit Policies
Vehicle Code section 17004.7 gives a public agency immunity from liability for collisions involving peace officer pursuits if the agency follows a written vehicular pursuit policy and provides annual training on the topic.
In April 2014, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff’s Office) revised its vehicle pursuit policy (Policy). The lengthy Policy included guidelines on “initiating, continuing or terminating pursuits,” which covered 15 of the 19 guidelines established by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST Commission). The Policy also included guidelines on “aircraft support procedures,” which similarly outlined considerations established by the POST Commission. The Sheriff’s Office also provided annual training on vehicular pursuits through a training video covering the same topics and guidelines addressed in the Policy.
The Sheriff’s Office required its peace officers to certify electronically that they read and understood the agency’s employment policies. Supervisors within the Sheriff’s Office would audit these electronic certifications and follow up with those peace officers who failed to timely comply with the agency’s policy certification requirements. By October 2014, the Sheriff’s Office obtained electronic certifications from approximately 80% of its peace officers for the revised Policy.
In October 2014, a car fleeing from Sheriff’s Office deputies struck William Riley. Riley then sued the Sheriff’s Office. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Sheriff’s Office, holding that the agency complied with the policy and training requirements under Section 17004.7. Therefore, the Sheriff’s Office was immune from liability for Riley’s injuries.
On appeal, Riley argued that (i) the Policy was not properly promulgated within the meaning of Section 17004.7 and (ii) the Policy failed to satisfy Section 17004.7’s training requirements and minimum standards regarding speed and air support. The California Court of Appeal disagreed with Riley’s contentions and affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the Sheriff’s Office was immune from liability.
Specifically, the Court of Appeal held that the Sheriff’s Office properly promulgated its Policy. Riley argued that Section 17004.7 required the Policy to contain explicit certification language. But, the Court of Appeal held that the statute required only that all peace officers of an agency certify in writing that they received, read, and understood the policy. Therefore, the electronic signature page was sufficient under Section 17004.7. The statute did not require the Sheriff’s Office to include similar certification language in the Policy itself.
On the promulgation issue, the Court of Appeal also held that the Sheriff’s Office showed that it had a system in place reasonably designed to appraise all peace officers of the Policy and that supervisors followed up with officers who failed to certify electronically that they read and understood the Policy. The Sheriff’s Office failed to obtain certifications from approximately 20% of peace officers at the time of Riley’s injury, but the Court of Appeal held that while the agency could improve its follow-up process, the current procedures were nonetheless adequate under Section 17004.7.
The Policy satisfied minimum standards relating to speed and air support under Section 17004.7. Although the Policy failed to include a section that specifically addressed speed, the Policy did address the relevant POST Commission’s guidelines. Similarly, the Policy’s section on-air support sufficiently addressed the POST Commission’s guidelines. The Court of Appeal declined to require explicit reference to each POST guideline when the Policy as a whole furthered the Legislature’s goal of encouraging fewer and safer pursuits. Similarly, the Sheriff’s Office driver training video was sufficient under Section 17004.7 because it presented the same guidelines outlined in the Policy.
Riley v. Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, 2019 WL 6872466 (2019).
This case illustrates the importance of having updated written policies that peace officers timely acknowledge, either in writing or electronically.