The Ellis County Commissioners Court approved adopting a rule that would prohibit the use of a privately owned motor vehicle to be used for official county business and law enforcement duties at its Tuesday meeting.
Precinct 2 Constable Terry Nay addressed the court in opposition of the proposed rule. Nay told the court that a rule like this would limit his ability to perform his law enforcement duties.
“Be very careful is what I would like to ask you to do in those rules and regulations because we clearly have conflicting statutes that tell us what we shall do under given circumstances,” Nay said. “Texas peace officers are never off duty. If we are on a bicycle, moped, on foot, in your car or any car, it really does not matter. The statue says we are obligated to act when an offense is committed in our presence.”
Nay said by telling him that he can’t use his personal vehicle to effectively perform his duties, then he is probably going to ignore those duties, which he does not want to do.
Dennis Robinson, Precinct 1 Commissioner, told Nay that the court is not telling him how to perform his job.
“We are not telling you when you can respond or how you choose to respond to a crime when on duty or off duty. That is totally up to you,” Robinson said. “To me, all this does if you choose to use a personal vehicle, then you are liable for your personal vehicle and the county is not liable for that. We are not hindering you in how you perform your duties in any way.”
Lane Grayson, Precinct 2 Commissioner, shared some of Robinson’s thoughts on the issue of using personal vehicle for official county business.
“Constable, I understand the use and language of shall. I would agree to the extent with Mr. Robinson on you not being able to comply with shall. But there is a significant concern that I have,” Grayson said. “We can talk about scenarios all day long. I am all about the job that you have committed to do. You have respect from me and many others in this county. But I can’t help but recognize the liability that happens when we do that (job) in our personal vehicles.”
Paul Perry, Precinct 3 Commissioner, was the only commissioner that voted against the proposed rule at Tuesday meeting. Perry felt that members of law enforcement should have input in this decision and the issue be handled through crafting a countywide pursuit policy.
“I am all about protecting taxpayer liability. But at the same time I am all for protecting public safety. My concern is that is if the commissioners court tries to perform a top down regulation, whether law enforcement can use their personal vehicles,” Perry said. “I have a couple of concerns about it. One them being a county pursuit policy is what I would buy into and that would be the way to go. It would be more of a gold standard from protecting the county from liability. But also would have the input from law enforcement that we depend on to protect public safety. We could end up addressing our liability. I would consider voting for a measure like this.”
Perry said he does not want to put any doubt in the mind of an officer who is responding to a call whether the county has their backs or not.
County Judge Carol Bush said Ellis County is not the first county to have this type of policy in place that restricts the use of personal vehicles. She noted that Dallas and Tarrant counties have similar polices in place. Bush added this policy would help to “stop poor judgment” and that “most everyone has a vehicle that they can take home.”
Following the vote, during a recess of the court, Nay said the outcome of the vote stated that the court does not have the back of law enforcement.
“As elected law enforcement official in the county, we are paid a salary to do a job, more so than any other Texas peace officer. Therefore we are never off duty if we are in our county. As a personal, ethical issue, I have an issue driving a county vehicle if I am doing anything personal. So I try to drive a personal vehicle, but you run into stuff when you are on personal time so to speak that requires you by oath to respond,” Nay said. “Again, I didn’t get to hear legal’s input. I didn’t get to hear the commissioners’ intention was before they passed it. I didn’t have a whole lot to go by from my standpoint. I just wanted them to be aware on how that impeded our ability to perform our duties when they say, ‘hey, we are not going to have your back when you do what you were elected to do.’ That is what they have affectively told those law enforcement officers today.”
Prior to the vote, commissioners convened into executive session to discuss several items, one of which was a lawsuit filed by Felipe Pineda and Israel Lozano vs. Ellis County. The suit centers on alleged actions taken by Nay during a vehicle pursuit on May 5, 2013. At the time of the pursuit, Nay was in his personal vehicle, a Ford F-350 pickup truck.
According to the plaintiffs’ original petition, Pineda and Lozano were traveling on Interstate 35E when Nay pulled out in front and in close proximity of their motorcycles to block the road. Pineda collided with the rear of Nay’s vehicle, which caused Lozano to lose control of his motorcycle. The accident resulted in disabling injures. In the petition, they allege that Nay failed to adhere to the county’s patrol standard operating procedures when using his vehicle to block or slow the motorcycles down. Pineda and Lozano are seeking monetary relief of at least $1 million.
Nay said he was not negligent in the way that he stopped Pineda and Lozano and was not in the pursuit, but was ahead of it trying to alert traffic.
“That particular spring day, Scarborough Fair was letting out. So traffic was horrible on I-35E northbound, coming out of the renaissance festival. I knew they were coming and wanted to warn traffic. I turned my lights on kind of slow rolling in the slow lane of traffic, trying to get everybody slowed down,” Nay said. I was well ahead of the pursuit. Anyway, they approached me from behind. The rider that was on the right-hand side clipped the back quarter panel of my truck and bumper with his leg and arm. The other guy to the inside lane laid down his bike and slid a long way. DPS estimated their speed at 120 mph upon impact.”
Bush said she could not comment on pending litigation at this time. Bush added that the decision made by the court was to tighten up the county’s policy.