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SHREVEPORT — The lawsuit filed by the surviving children of an elderly couple who died following a high-speed chase in Shreveport is on its way back to a Caddo Parish court following a recent state appeals court ruling.
A Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal three-judge panel reversed a portion of a lower court judge's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator and Deputy Earlton Parker and remanded the case. In its 12-page judgment, the appeals court judges found the trial court was wrong to grant the summary judgment because issues of material fact exist about whether Parker was negligent and Prator was vicariously liable.
The appeals court's judgment was handed down in the appeal by plaintiffs of Caddo Parish First Judicial District Court Judge Ramon Lafitte's decision to deny their cross-motion for partial summary judgment, as well as summary judgment in favor of the sheriff and deputy.
Appeals court Judge Shonda Stone wrote the opinion in which Judge Jay B. McCallum and retired Judge Joe Bleich, serving as judge pro tempore, concurred.
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The case stems from a Dec. 18, 2014 attempt by members of a Caddo-Shreveport Narcotics Unit joint task force, the Street Level Interdiction Unit, to arrest Oklahoma fugitive Damien Pea "on various outstanding warrants," according to the background portion of the appeals court's judgment. The more than 11-minute, night-time, high-speed chase in rainy conditions at speeds in excess of 90 mph began at a convenience store on West 70th Street in Shreveport and traveled through several residential and commercial neighborhoods.
"During the pursuit on Jewella Avenue, Pea's vehicle struck a civilian vehicle causing Pea to have a flat tire and cross the median on Jewella Avenue," the judgment said. "Pea continued to drive against the flow of traffic when he struck, head on, a vehicle occupied by Obie and Linda Weaver."
The Weavers, who had been married 59 years, later died from their injuries, with Linda Weaver, 78, dying two days later and Obie Weaver, 82, dying on Feb. 27, 2015. Pea was pronounced dead on the scene.
In December 2015, the Weaver's children filed suit against the City of Shreveport, Shreveport Police Sgt. Larry J. Scott, Sgt. Jeff Peters, Prator, Parker and Deputy Joel Davidson. The Weaver family amended their complaint to allege vicarious liability for the city and the actions of Deputy Davidson and later added Pea's girlfriend, Teketia Pipkins, American Alternative Insurance Co. and Columbia Casualty Co. as defendants.
In their motion for summary judgment, Prator and Parker claimed the deputy was not negligent because he took no part in planning the arrest or pursuit and the sheriff was not vicariously liable for the actions of others. The two claimed that even if the Caddo-Shreveport Narcotics unit was a joint venture, the sheriff could not be held vicariously or solidarily liable "for the alleged fault" of Shreveport police officers, the judgment said.
The Weaver family filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment, asking Lafitte to find the city and sheriff solidarily liable for their parents' deaths. Lafitte denied the cross-motion, finding Parker was not at fault and Prator not vicariously liable. The Weavers appealed.
The appeals court panel found that Shreveport Police and the Caddo County Sheriff's Department were "fully engaged in the operation to arrest Pea" and disagreed with the characterization of Parker's involvement as "limited," the judgment said. Parker "unequivocally admitted" during his deposition "that he was in fact a participant in the operation," the judgment said.
Parker testified during his deposition that he had used the police radio to inform officers in the lead vehicle that he and a Shreveport police officer could take the lead in the chase, according to the judgment.
"Therefore, having reviewed Deputy Parker's deposition testimony under the summary judgment standard of review, we reject the defendants' argument of Deputy Parker's limited involvement in the operation as a basis to absolve any liability for the sheriff or Deputy Parker," the judgment said.