The family of a Phoenix woman who died after a highspeed police pursuit has filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and a Tucson woman seriously injured in another pursuit has filed a notice of claim, threatening to sue.
"I think it’s just a case of the tort bar, the plaintiff’s tort bar, looking for deep pockets," said Jack MacIntyre, a sheriff’s office spokesman. "It doesn’t have anything to do with the pursuit of justice, truth or anything."
According to a lawsuit filed Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court, Eunice Joshevema, 26, died Jan. 30, 2003, after deputies pursued a suspect who was traveling more than 95 miles per hour and who had driven through at least four red lights.
The pursuit ended when the suspect crashed into Joshevema’s vehicle at Rural Road and Priest Drive, killing her instantly.
The deputies’ decision to continue pursuing the suspect was "nothing short of temporary insanity driven by ego, testosterone and adrenaline," Phoenix attorneys Richard Treon and Larry Debus write in the lawsuit.
The suspect who the deputies were chasing also turned out not to be the person they were seeking on an outstanding warrant, the lawsuit states.
"The conduct of the sheriff, when considered in its totality, exceeded the bounds of decent conduct expected from the citizens within our community," the lawsuit states.
Treon and Debus have also filed a notice of claim with the county on behalf of Tucson resident Valerie Vinyard.
According to the notice, Vinyard spent a week in a coma after being struck July 28, 2003, by a Dodge Neon that was driven by men suspected of stripping a vehicle of its parts in Guadalupe.
The attorneys said their client was willing to settle her case for $2 million.
It was only after the Vinyard case that Arpaio changed his pursuit policy to prohibit deputies from pursuing suspects in regard to minor crimes, stolen vehicles and traffic violations, Treon and Debus state.
The fact he didn’t do so earlier constitutes gross negligence, the attorneys wrote.
In the Vinyard incident, the deputies had stopped pursuing the suspect miles before the crash, MacIntyre said. In the Joshevema case, the suspect turned out to be driving a stolen vehicle, he said.
"There will always be somebody out there trying to manufacture a claim for money damages out of a good faith attempt to do the right thing," MacIntyre said.