Texas Judge’s Ruling Would Expose Arkansas Police to Possible Lawsuits

June 14, 2005

A recent Texas court ruling has turned the state line into a key issue for Arkansas police working cases that cross the border, according to the Associated Press and the Texarkana Gazette.

Bowie County District Judge Leon Pesek Jr. ruled that city employees, including police and firefighters, on the Arkansas side of Texarkana do not have sovereign immunity in Texas.

That means they can be sued. An Arkansas-side employee involved in a vehicle accident in Texas, for instance, could have to pay $220,000 more in liability insurance.

Texarkana, Ark., police are accustomed to crossing the state line every day as part of their usual business, and the city plans an appeal.

Pesek’s decision also has caught the attention of other Arkansas law enforcement agencies that work close to the border.

“We have a lot of medical issues with the inmates, and any time we have to take them to the emergency room, we have to transport them into Texas,” said Miller County Sheriff H.L. Phillips.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by an Ashdown, Ark., woman whose vehicle was struck by a Texarkana, Ark., police officer in 2002. The accident happened in Texarkana, Texas, and the woman claimed she should be paid more than $20,000 in damages for her injuries, which is the statutory minimum for auto liability insurance in Texas.

Phillips said investigators with the sheriff’s department frequently interview accident victims or crime victims at one of the local Texas hospitals. Wadley Regional Medical Center and CHRISTUS St. Michael Health Care Center are in Texarkana, Texas.

Also, he said, many times vehicle pursuits begin in Miller County and end up in Texas, and his department also conducts joint narcotics investigation with Texarkana police officers.

“We work so close together that the (state) line is just another place in the road,” Phillips said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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