District Attorney General Tony Clark presented the resolution to the County Commission’s Public Safety Committee last week and the members approved it.
“I introduced to them the bill (state Sen.) Rusty Crowe had been working on with Gary Daugherty and myself. Basically, his legal staff came up with, hopefully, a bill that will be passed by the legislature that will ensure people (who injure someone) as a result of evading arrest will get more than a reckless endangerment,” Clark said.
Daugherty suffered life-threatening injuries Jan. 2, 2012, when he attempted to throw out a spike stick roll to stop a vehicle with three people suspected in a robbery.
The driver, Dalvin J. Stephens, 18, hit Daugherty as the officer tried to get out of the way. The impact tossed Daughtery into the air and he landed about 80 feet from the point of impact.
Stephens and his and passengers, Reginald D. Smith, 41, and Ashley Nicole McGraw, 18, were originally charged with attempted first-degree murder, which requires premeditation. Prosecutors argued that point heavily, saying video from another officer’s cruiser showed Stephens swerved to hit Daugherty. Stephens’ defense attorney argued his client swerved to miss Daugherty, but the officer stumbled backward and into the car’s path.
The jury rejected the premeditation theory as well as the next lesser charge, attempted second-degree murder, and convicted the three of the only other choice — reckless endangerment.
“If you evade from a law enforcement officer, it’s a class E felony. If you evade from a law enforcement officer and there’s a substantial risk of death or seriously bodily injury, that bumps it up to a class D felony,” Clark said. “There is nothing to enhance it if a person is actually struck and injured.”
The punishment for the class D felony is two to four years in prison. McGraw received one year and is serving her time under house arrest in an alternative community corrections program. Stephens was sentenced to two years while Smith was sentenced to 18 months.
“What we’re trying to do, we want something in the statute that says if you evade the police and if someone is injured — whether it’s an officer or bystander — we think it should be a B or C felony. We think there should be a higher punishment than if someone just put you in fear of being hurt,” Clark said.
“Reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon ... it’s the same (sentence) as forging a $30 check in Tennessee,” Clark said. “It’s something that’s not been looked at until now. This will be an amendment to the present statute of felony evading arrest.”
By all accounts of what happened to him, it’s a miracle Daugherty isn’t dead. That’s what prompted Clark to charge the defendants with attempted murder.
Daugherty testified at the trial last year that he thought he would die from his injuries.
The impact tossed him high into the air, and he landed on the pavement. His recovery took more than a year and included four surgeries and intensive physical therapy. The injuries included a cracked pelvis, shattered elbow, broken arm and wrist and a knee injury.
Clark said Crowe’s legislation is ready to be presented for consideration to be voted into law.
“In this case, our argument is that there’s not very many of these, but when it does happen there ought to be a stiffer penalty,” Clark said. Most evading cases are resolved with a plea, so it is likely to cost taxpayers little to implement.
“If Gary hadn’t been in the shape he was, he’d be dead,” Clark said. “He was hit almost straight on at more than 50 mph.”