JACLYNN MARTINEZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND OF MINORS DYLAN MARTINEZ AND CHRISTINE MARTINEZ, Appellant
HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, Appellee
Appeal from the 127th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2014-31409
consists of Justices Higley, Massengale, and Huddle. Justice
Michael Massengale Justice
Martinez sued Harris County for injuries she and her two
children sustained when her car was struck by a deputy
constable who was pursuing a fleeing motorist. The trial
court granted the county summary judgment on the basis of
governmental immunity. Martinez contends that the trial court
conclude that the county conclusively established that its
officer, who was driving a car, acted in good faith when,
pursuant to policies established to promote the safety of
law-enforcement officers, he took over a pursuit previously
initiated by another law-enforcement officer on a motorcycle.
We further conclude that over the course of the short
pursuit, no subsequent developments altered the balance of
need and risk factors sufficiently to require an end to the
chase. Because Martinez failed to introduce controverting
proof that no reasonable person in the officer's position
could have thought the circumstances justified his actions,
we affirm the judgment.
County Deputy Constable C. Johnson was on patrol in a cruiser
late one Friday afternoon when he encountered a high-speed
police pursuit in progress. Because this appeal concerns a
dispute over the deputy constable's good faith in the
exercise of his discretionary duties by joining and
continuing the pursuit, we focus on the information that was
known to him, and we disregard information which was unknown
to him at the time. See Telthorster v. Tennell, 92
S.W.3d 457, 465 (Tex. 2002).
Houston Police Department motorcycle officer with his
emergency lights activated was pursuing the driver of a Dodge
Caliber with paper license plates. Because the county and the
city used different radio systems, Johnson could not
communicate with the motorcycle officer directly. However, he
joined and took the lead in the pursuit, in compliance with
the Harris County Constable's guidelines which provided
that a constable in a cruiser generally should take over any
pursuit initiated by a law-enforcement officer on a
motorcycle. The policy promotes the safety of motorcycle
officers, for whom a pursuit is more dangerous as compared to
officers driving cars.
addition to this general policy, Johnson considered several
additional factors when he decided to join and continue the
pursuit. He considered the time of day, traffic conditions,
severity of the crime, risk that the pursuit posed to the
suspect and others, and public safety. It was shortly after
5:00 p.m. at the end of the work week; however, traffic was
light to moderate despite the nearness of rush hour. It was
dry and sunny. While Johnson was unaware of what had caused
the initiation of the pursuit, he was able to observe that
the fleeing driver apparently was committing the felony
offense of evading arrest or detention.
fleeing driver posed a danger to the general public. While
speeding, he forced several other drivers from the road
during the pursuit. Though Johnson recognized that the
pursuit itself posed some risk, he concluded that the fleeing
driver posed a greater risk to the public.
Johnson initially pursued the fleeing driver along the
service road of an interstate highway, then through a
residential neighborhood, and finally into a more commercial
area. He continually reevaluated the need to pursue the
fleeing driver and the risks involved throughout the pursuit.
As they approached the intersection of Telephone Road and
Woodridge Drive, the traffic light was red. Initially,
Johnson believed that the driver was going to run the red
light. However, the fleeing driver abruptly turned right on
Woodridge Drive from Telephone Road's rightmost
northbound lane. When Johnson decelerated and tried to follow
from the left northbound lane of Telephone Road, he struck
Jaclynn Martinez's car, a Kia Soul. Martinez, who had her
children in her car with her, was stopped at a red light in
the left-turn lane of Woodridge Drive. When Johnson turned
onto Woodridge Drive, his front bumper struck the front
bumper of her car and pushed it backward into a truck
directly behind her, as depicted in the crash report:
Johnson testified that when he made the decision to continue
pursuing the fleeing driver onto Woodridge Drive, he thought
the space occupied by Martinez's vehicle, in front of the
truck, was empty. Though he did not realize at that time that
his view was obstructed, Johnson later identified two
obstructions that accounted for his failure to see
Martinez's small car-the fleeing driver's vehicle to
his right and a one-foot decline in the road's elevation
where Martinez was stopped. The fleeing driver's car and
the dip in the road effectively concealed Martinez's car
from Johnson's view due to its relatively low profile.
According to Johnson, he did not see Martinez until he struck
her, or immediately before the collision.
record does not disclose precise information about the
duration of Johnson's pursuit. He testified in his
deposition that the portion of the pursuit that went through
a neighborhood lasted three minutes. He testified that the
chase continued for another "three to four minutes"
between the collision and the time when he took the suspect
into custody, and the entire chase lasted "approximately
six, seven minutes."
sued Harris County for negligence, alleging that she and her
two children were injured when Johnson's patrol cruiser
struck her car. The county generally denied Martinez's
allegations and asserted governmental immunity.
County moved for summary judgment on its immunity defense.
The county argued that the doctrine of official immunity
shielded Johnson from personal liability, and that it
therefore retained its governmental immunity from suit.
Martinez responded that the county had not proven
conclusively Johnson's good faith, a prerequisite to
materials the trial court struck from the record, the
summary-judgment proof consisted of:
• an affidavit and curriculum vitae of the county's
expert, former Chief of Police of San Antonio, Albert Ortiz;
• a transcript of Johnson's deposition;
• a letter summarizing the Internal Affairs
Division's investigation of Johnson's accident;
• an accident report; and
• an interdepartmental statement written by Johnson
regarding his pursuit of the ...