WTVM Investigates: Does the punishment fit the crime? Efforts to increase eluding penalties
COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - Fleeing police - or eluding - is becoming a bigger problem for law enforcement with each passing year.
The results can be deadly - and the chaos - wide reaching. Surprisingly, the penalties for this behavior are also light.
WTVM News Leader 9 Investigates: police chases and where they end have a lot to do with the punishment the person will face.
Danger at every turn, police pursuits can turn into life changing situations in an instant.
A 2022 pursuit in Chambers County led to the death of a deputy assisting with the chase.
“He started around the left side of them and met a vehicle, and it was either hit the vehicle head on or go to the woods and he went into the woods,” said Retired Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart. “He did to save someone else’s life.”
In this case, the man on the run was wanted. The penalty for eluding - a slap on the wrist - a citation and an arrest, a misdemeanor crime, and someone charged is released from jail as soon as they can make bail.
There is a bill in the Alabama Legislature this year that will increase the penalties involved with running from law enforcement - and a 2019 case in Dothan could be much different if the law were already in place.
Jeremy Jermaine Jones went on a crime rampage in February 2019, led police on a high speed chase, and hit and killed a driver in a head-on collision.
He was involved in a multi-county police pursuit just a week prior - and was only charged with a misdemeanor - the standard punishment for the crime - but had it been a felony, he would have been in violation of parole and he would’ve been send to jail - likely ending his deadly rampage the next week before it ever could have happened.
Pursuits are a problem law enforcement agencies are dealing with in high numbers in both Alabama and Georgia.
Sheriffs we talked with are in favor of stiffer penalties for the crime.
“My feeling is it needs to be a felony,” said Retired Sheriff Lockhart.
“When you run from the police it shows a total disregard not only for authority, but for the public in general,” said Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley. “So, I think it should be a felony.”
“Law enforcement I know in the state of Alabama is by and large in favor of a higher penalty or a more serious outcome in regard to individuals charged with attempting to elude, the current charge, but basically fleeing from a traffic stop or a law enforcement officer,” said Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones. “That’s something I think we need to concentrate on.”
You might think that crossing a state line during a pursuit would add some additional weight to charges, but that’s not actually the case. When we started investigating how big of a problem these chases are, we learned something interesting.
If you run from law enforcement in Alabama, across state lines into Georgia, your penalty is actually less than it would be if you stopped in Alabama.
“We periodically chase cars to Georgia and with it being a misdemeanor all we can do is write a ticket and say ‘have a nice day’ because we can’t extradite them back on a misdemeanor,” said retired Sheriff Lockhart.
That’s right, Georgia doesn’t extradite for misdemeanor crimes.
“Now days nobody goes to jail for a traffic violation. You’re not going to prison for it, you’re not going to jail,” said Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley. “It may cost you a little money, but if you run from the police and cause an accident it could kill you, kill someone else, an innocent bystander, a police officer, property damage, it’s just a no win situation.”
Law enforcement tells us that despite the dangers involved, agencies are particularly careful in pursuit operations - and the practice is necessary.
And in Alabama this spring, the legislature will have a chance to put a substantial punishment on what law enforcement says is a real crime.
“Another thing they could also do is have a forfeiture law on that,” said Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley. “If you run from the police in a vehicle, you could possibly lose your vehicle, that might also have a little ramification on it.”
Each department has a protocol that they follow for pursuits, and pretty much universally, they will all call them off if conditions are dangerous for the general public.
In Georgia, the penalty for fleeing police is also a misdemeanor, but those who run into Alabama can and will be extradited back.
We’ll be following Alabama’s bill through the State House this spring to see if lawmakers hear the suggestions from those who capture law breakers.
The Alabama Legislative session begins April 10 at noon.
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