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Virginia police officers sued after deadly high-speed chase seek dismissal of lawsuit

Andre Bassette Jr.
Posted at 5:30 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 17:43:24-04

HOPEWELL, Va. — Prince George Police officers are asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges their decision to engage in a police pursuit led to the death of an innocent, uninvolved driver on the road.

In February, Rosa Bassette, represented by attorney Virginia Tehrani, filed an $18 million lawsuit in Hopewell Circuit Court against the individual officers involved in the chase.

The pursuit ended in a fatal crash that killed her son Andre Bassette Jr.

Rosa believes the pursuit should've never happened.

“When you lose your loved ones because the police are chasing people and things like that, this has got to stop," Rosa Bassette said in a previous interview with CBS 6. “It was unnecessary. It was. To me, it was. I lost my son behind this. My son was a very, very nice gentleman. He left a 17-year-old daughter here. They [were] very bonded. My son is gone. He’s gone.”

Andre Bassette Jr. and mom

Local News

Her son was killed in a police pursuit she believes should've never happened

Tyler Layne
5:59 PM, Feb 13, 2024

According to police reports, on July 28, 2023, a Prince George officer attempted to pull over Tequan Taylor's pickup truck for driving 22 miles over the speed limit, which is reckless driving.

However, records showed that Taylor did not stop, so officers pursued him along Oak Lawn Boulevard and into Hopewell.

According to police reports, speeds reached up to 100 miles per hour.

Two and a half miles later, police reports showed Taylor ran a red light and collided with Bassette's car, killing him.

Andre Bassette Jr.

The Prince George Police Department's policy, obtained by CBS 6 through a public records request, states officers should only pursue under two circumstances:

  • Upon reasonable belief that the occupant(s) of the vehicle has/have committed or attempted to commit a felony crime
  • The on-duty supervisor may permit a lawful police pursuit for any other extreme, unusual, situation where human life is reasonably believed to be in imminent jeopardy should police intervention not occur

After conducting an internal investigation of the pursuit, Chief Keith Early told CBS 6, "Typically, reckless driving alone would not fall within either of these two conditions."
Bassette's complaint alleged the officers "failed to comply with required training, practices, policies, regulations, and laws" and "created an exceptionally dangerous environment for the public."

Rosa Bassette
Rosa Bassette

Virginia Commonwealth University policing researcher Dr. Will Pelfrey said Prince George's pursuit policy is "fairly restrictive."

Law enforcement agencies across the country, he said, are moving toward restrictive policies because high-speed chases are one of the most dangerous activities police engage in.

"It's usually not the police vehicle that represents the threat. It's the suspect's vehicle because they're not trained in driving at high speeds. They don't have a vehicle that's prepared for it. So, if they hit somebody at high speeds, somebody's going die, and that's what happened here. So the question is, should police be pursuing people for relatively minor infractions?" Pelfrey said. “For minor traffic infractions, that balancing act of risk to the public versus how important is it to catch that bad guy – it usually weighs in favor of the public.”

However, Pelfrey said trying to prove gross negligence in court, especially against a police officer, could be a tall order.

“In this case, there may be questions about whether [the officers'] actions aligned with organizational policy, but those are not so far afield that it would represent gross negligence," Pelfrey said.

In new court filings, the officers' attorneys filed demurrers requesting a dismissal of the lawsuit.

The officers denied most of the allegations in the complaint, including that they initiated a high-speed chase.

Instead, one of the officers admitted that he "observed a red Dodge pickup truck driving recklessly." The officer admitted "that he attempted to initiate a traffic stop to which... Taylor continued into Hopewell."

The defendants said that the complaint failed to allege facts that support a cause of action for gross negligence and added the "plaintiff's injuries resulted from intentional, reckless and/or criminal actions of another person."

The officers also claimed sovereign immunity.

"Sovereign immunity says that a police officer or any government employee acting in the line of duty, doing what they're supposed to, is immune from liability if something bad happens," Pelfrey said.

Pelfrey said it's a strong protection, and historically, court rulings have favored police in similar cases because of it.

"Police have to demonstrate a tremendous disregard for law and policy in order to lose their protected immunity," Pelfrey said.

CBS 6 did not hear back from the officers' attorney after reaching out for comment Wednesday.

Tehrani, Bassette's attorney, provided the following statement:

"The defense filings are standard, boilerplate motions that are common for public officials, especially police officers. We are not surprised by them and will be ready for oral arguments in July. We expect to succeed by showing that the officers’ gross negligence in pursuing the high speed police chase that let to Andre Bassette’s death should be decided by a jury."

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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