By Rose Hernandez
On Sunday Luke Neely engaged in a high speed chase on I4 after police confronted him when they got called to a residence for an arson report…
This is a case of the police making a bad situation worse, but the person who will bear the brunt of the consequences will likely be the Defendant, Luke Neely. The allegations in this case were serious to begin with. Neely was accused of Arson and Attempted First Degree Murder, each of which are first-degree felonies carrying maximum sentences of 30 years in prison.
Neely was also accused of Firebombing and Resisting Arrest with Violence, each of which are third-degree felonies carrying maximum sentences of 5 years in prison. So, with a combined maximum possible sentence of at least 70 years in prison, the Defendant here is facing some serious time.
Given the allegations here, I can understand law enforcement’s interest in detaining Neely, but I cannot say the actions law enforcement took to detain the Defendant were reasonable. By engaging in a high-speed chase, using precision immobilization techniques, and shooting at the Defendant, law enforcement put countless drivers and bystanders at risk of serious injury or death. Law enforcement did not have to engage in a high-speed chase to detain the Defendant. That is what arrest warrants are for. In many other counties in Florida, law enforcement agencies actually have policies in place discouraging officers from engaging in high-speed chases due to the risk these chases pose to the rest of the community. A public records search should reveal what the Polk County Sheriff’s Office’s policies are in these situations.
Instead, the Defendant will likely face additional charges as a result of the high-speed chase, including Aggravated Fleeing and Eluding, a second-degree felony carrying a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison, and possibly Carrying a Concealed Firearm charges, each of which carry a maximum possible sentence of 5 years in prison, depending on where the firearms in the vehicle were found. Until more information comes out regarding the Arson, Attempted First-Degree Murder, and Firebomb charges, it is difficult to say whether law enforcement’s actions were in any way justified. It would be a sad turn of events if the State did not have the evidence to support these original charges, because that would mean law enforcement put potentially hundreds of people at risk due to unfounded allegations.
Even if there is insufficient evidence to support the original charges, Neely will likely still have to answer for the charges he accrued during the high-speed pursuit. Those do not go away automatically just because the original charges, the reason why the police were looking for him in the first place, went away. As to the charges stemming from the high-speed pursuit, looking into the Polk County Sheriff’s Office’s policies and the Internal Affairs records of the officers involved might help show law enforcement acted recklessly. It would also help to review body-worn camera footage, dashboard camera footage, even helicopter footage, to see if the pursuit went down exactly as the police claim it did. The Fleeing and Eluding charge will likely stick, but scrutinizing law enforcement’s conduct could help provide some mitigation for the Defendant.
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