January 27, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) — Running away from the police — or dodging — is becoming a bigger problem for law enforcement agencies with each passing year.

The results can be deadly – and the chaos – far-reaching. Surprisingly, the penalties for this behavior are also small.

WTVM News Leader 9 Investigations: Police chases and where they end up have a lot to do with the punishment the person faces.

Danger at every turn, police chases can turn into life-changing situations in the blink of an eye.

A 2022 prosecution in Chambers County resulted in the death of a congressman who was helping with the prosecution.

“He started on their left and hit a vehicle and it either ran head-on into the vehicle or pulled into the woods and he went into the woods,” said retired Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart. “He did it to save someone else’s life.”

In this case, the man was wanted on the run. The penalty for evasion – a slap in the face – a subpoena and an arrest, a misdemeanor felony, and someone charged will be released from prison once they are able to post bail.

There’s a bill in the Alabama legislature this year that will increase penalties for evading prosecution — and a 2019 case in Dothan might look very different if the law were already in effect.

Jeremy Jermaine Jones committed a killing spree in February 2019, leading police in a high-speed chase and hitting and killing a driver in a head-on collision.

He was involved in a multi-county police pursuit just a week earlier – and was only charged with one misdemeanor – the standard penalty for the crime – but had it been a felony he would have broken parole, and he would have done was sent to prison – likely ending his deadly killing spree within the next week before it could ever have happened.

Prosecutions are a problem faced by law enforcement agencies in large numbers in both Alabama and Georgia.

Sheriffs we spoke to advocate harsher penalties for the crime.

“My feeling is that there has to be a crime,” retired Sheriff Lockhart said.

“If you’re running from the police, it shows a complete disregard not only for authority but for the public in general,” said Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley. “Well, I think it should be a crime.”

“Law enforcement agencies in the state of Alabama that I know of are broadly in favor of a higher sentence or a more serious finding with respect to people accused of attempting to evade the current charge, but basically before a traffic stop or to a law enforcement officer,” said Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones. “That’s what I think we need to focus on.”

You might think that crossing a state line during a prosecution would add weight to the charges, but that’s not really the case. As we began investigating how big the problem with these car chases is, we learned something interesting.

If you run across state lines into Georgia from law enforcement in Alabama, your sentence will actually be less than if you stopped in Alabama.

“We regularly chase cars into Georgia and since it’s a misdemeanor all we can do is write a ticket and say ‘Have a nice day’ because we can’t extradite it for a misdemeanor,” said retired Sheriff Lockhart.

That’s right, Georgia doesn’t extradite for misdemeanor felonies.

“No one goes to jail for a traffic violation these days. You’re not going to jail for that, you’re not going to jail for that,” 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 not a win-win situation .”

Law enforcement tells us that despite the dangers involved, authorities take extra care in tracking operations — and the practice is necessary.

And this spring in Alabama, lawmakers will have a chance to impose a substantial sentence on what law enforcement is calling a real crime.

“Another thing they could also do is have a forfeiture statute on it,” said Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley. “If you run away from the police in a vehicle, you could potentially lose your vehicle, that could also have a small impact.”

Each department has a protocol they follow in pursuits, and almost all will cancel them if conditions are dangerous to the general public.

In Georgia, the penalty for fleeing police is also a misdemeanor, but those who run to Alabama can and will be extradited.

We’ll be following Alabama’s bill through the state house this spring to see if lawmakers are hearing the proposals from those arresting lawbreakers.

The Alabama Legislative Session begins April 10 at 12:00 p.m.

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