Cover Story: In Officer-Involved Crashes, Is It Ever The Cops' Fault?
In 2009, a Houston police officer driving 60 miles per hour on a residential road at night, with no lights or sirens, slammed into a car carrying 54-year-old Mattie Etubom, who suffered severe injuries.
In 2010, a Houston police officer driving 84 miles per hour on a residential road at night, with no lights or sirens, slammed into a car carrying distinguished Baylor College of Medicine scientist Estela Medrano, killing her.
Etubom, and Medrano's husband, sued. City attorneys vigorously defended both cases, saying the officers were following both departmental policy and state law. But then, seemingly without reason, the city settled the Medrano matter. This caused Etubom's attorney to take a closer look at that case, and found that the city had turned over evidence that it withheld in his case. This was especially troubling, given that Houston police had literally blown up the car that should have been preserved for evidence in Etubom's case.
Both cases allowed a rare look into how city attorneys deny liability in officer-involved crashes, how HPD policies are interpreted, and how such accidents are investigated.
What drivers in Houston need to know is this: based on these cases, officers responding to non-emergency calls are allowed to "run silent" at any speed, on any street, at any time, and woe to the person whose path they cross.
The lawsuits examined in this week's cover story, "Police Protection," show that, sometimes, the city is more interested in protecting and serving its own, rather than the public.