Multiple breaches of policy occurred during a Police pursuit that left an officer seriously injured when he was hit by the pursued vehicle.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has issued its report into the pursuit on Auckland’s North Shore early in the morning of 24 March 2009.
The Authority Chair, Justice Lowell Goddard, said the Authority found three Police officers and the pursuit controller breached policy.
The pursuit of the stolen Ford Fairlane began in Albany when a Police dog handler, ‘Officer A’, noted its occupants behaving suspiciously. During the pursuit, the controller at the Northern Communications Centre (NorthComms) twice ordered it to be abandoned. The first such order was not acknowledged or complied with by Officer A.
Road spikes were used at the intersection of Fred Thomas Dr and Esmonde Rd, near the start of the motorway on-ramp. The pursued driver ran over the spikes and swerved towards the Police constable who had deployed them, ‘Officer C’, striking him with the vehicle. Officer C’s choice of location did not provide him with cover and nor was he wearing a reflectorised jacket, both of which are required by Police policy.
The pursued driver, Sheean Heta continued driving despite losing a wheel on Akoranga Dr, and approximately four minutes later he drove off the Beach Haven wharf and into a tidal estuary.
About 30 seconds after Officer C was struck, the pursuit controller at NorthComms again ordered the pursuit to be abandoned. Officer A acknowledged the order but did not obey it, and another patrol car also joined the pursuit.
Heta was later convicted on numerous charges and sentenced to seven years one month imprisonment. Officer C suffered mild traumatic brain injury, a dental injury, and cuts, grazes and bruises.
Justice Goddard said the Authority reached the following conclusions:
• The pursuit was initiated by Officer A, on his (correct) assessment that the occupants of the vehicle were involved in illegal activity;
• Whilst the determination of the officers to apprehend the occupants of the vehicle is understandable, the outcome of their uncoordinated actions was serious bodily harm to Officer C;
• There were several significant breaches of Police policy. In particular – on two occasions, contrary to direct instructions, the pursuit was not abandoned; and important rules governing the use of road spikes were disregarded;
• Officer A’s failures to comply with instructions to abandon the pursuit were unjustified; Officers B and C’s failure to position and deploy road spikes according to policy was undesirable; and the pursuit controller’s failure to take firm command and control of the situation was undesirable.
The Authority has been advised by Police that the failures of Officers A, B, C and the pursuit controller are to be addressed as performance issues. They will be given refresher training where appropriate. In addition, Police have recommended a refresher training package for the stinger spikes be included as part of the Police Professional Driver Programme.
Accordingly, the Authority makes no further recommendations.