Will Supreme Court Put Brakes on Cop Chases?

ByABC News
February 26, 2007, 7:26 AM

Feb. 25, 2007 — -- High-speed police chases are fodder for cable news, but they kill more than 350 people on average every year. On Monday, for the first time in 20 years, the Supreme Court considers limiting how far police can go in trying to catch a fleeing suspect.

The case stems from a 2001 chase in Georgia. Officers were chasing a speeding Cadillac driven by 19-year-old Victor Harris. They clocked Harris going 73 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone. The chase reached speeds up to 90 miles per hour on the wet, dark Atlanta road.

Finally, police used a police technique known as PIT, an acronym for Pursuit Intervention Technique. The police cruiser rammed the fleeing car at angle to spin it around. In Harris's case, it sent his car flying into an embankment and left him paralyzed.

Harris sued Deputy Timothy Scott for using excessive force. Two lower courts have sided with Harris.

The chase was recorded by a dashboard camera, which also recorded Scott getting permission from his supervisor to use the PIT technique.

"Go ahead and take him out. Take him out!" comes the reply over the radio.

Harris's lawyer, Craig Jones, says Harris was just a speeder, fleeing because he was scared. He says deadly force was not justified.

"The mere fact that someone is driving unsafely or driving in violation of traffic laws, is that enough reason to be able to use deadly force to stop them?" Jones said.

A survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found only four percent of Americans believe high-speed chases should be banned entirely. More than half say police should have enough discretion to decide when it is safe to chase a suspect and when it isn't.

ABC News' Jan Crawford Greenburg and Dennis Powell contributed to this report.