Federal lawsuit filed against Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office dismissed

A federal lawsuit filed by the family of a man who allegedly froze to death after fleeing law enforcement officials has been dismissed.

Plaintiffs Charles Harrison and Kathryn Harrison had filed a complaint pursuant alleging that the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department and City of Corning Police Department violated their rights and the rights of their deceased adult son, Joshua Harrison, in connection with a police chase that ended in Joshua Harrison’s death.

According to court documents: On the night of February 5, 2015, Joshua Harrison was involved in a motor vehicle accident in the City of Corning that caused damage to another vehicle, and then fled from the scene. Corning police officers attempted to pull the car over. Joshua refused to pull over and kept driving. The officers pursued Joshua out of the City of Corning and into the County of Schuyler, where members of the Schuyler County Sheriff’s Department joined in the pursuit. Joshua exited his vehicle and ran into a forest. Police continued to search for approximately two hours, but eventually, determined that it was too cold to continue searching, since the temperature, with wind chill, was approximately twenty degrees below zero. The next day, searchers found Joshua Harrison’s body. It is undisputed he froze death. At the time that Joshua had run into the woods, he was dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, three t-shirts, jeans, and a pair of work boots.

On November 25, 2015, Plaintiffs commenced their action. On January 22, 2016, the City of Corning Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. On January 25, 2016, the Schuyler County Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss. On March 8, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an opposition to Defendants’ motions to dismiss, and a cross-motion for leave to amend the Complaint. On May 24, 2016, the court heard oral arguments on the motions.

Ruling Friday (October 7, 2016), Charles J. Siragusa, United States District Judge, held:

  • The proposed Amended Complaint does not allege sufficient facts to plead a substantive due process violation by any defendant.
  • The facts alleged indicate that the officers’ pursuit of Joshua was a legitimate response to the fact that he was driving a car that had earlier left the scene of an accident, and that he had refused the officers’ demands to pull over.
  • There is no allegation that the pursuit, in and of itself, was unsafe or resulted in injury to Joshua.
  • The officers spent approximately two hours attempting to locate Joshua. The officers attempted to track Joshua through the snow using a canine officer.
  • Joshua actively evaded the officers by hiding in wooded property. There was no indication of anything preventing Joshua from either surrendering to the officers, seeking shelter, or telephoning an acquaintance for a ride.
  • The officers could not have suspected that Joshua would choose to risk freezing to death rather than face questioning concerning a minor traffic accident.

Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint.

The complete decision can be found here.

The above is a republished press release from Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman and was not written by FingerLakes1.com. Click here to submit press releases, community announcements, or news tips to the FingerLakes1.com team. Newsroom inquiries can be sent by clicking here.

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