22 November 2011
Two experienced Police officers have been found to have breached policy during separate pursuits of fleeing drivers, after investigations by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.
The Authority has released reports into pursuits resulting in the death of Jason Luke Downes near Palmerston North on 4 May 2010; and in serious head injuries to Benjamin Eden in Lower Hutt on 11 November 2010.
Mr Downes, aged 25, was driving a Honda Civic; Mr Eden, aged 26, was driving a Honda Integra. In both cases, the pursuits commenced after the men’s cars were observed speeding late at night.
Mr Downes turned off his headlights and increased his speed after noticing the Police car’s blue and red lights. He swerved and lost control of his car on Pioneer Highway when he tried to avoid another motorist, who was unable to see his vehicle because it was painted black and its headlights were off. He was not wearing a seatbelt and died of a head injury at the scene.
The driver of a second black Honda Civic, which had been driving alongside and then behind Mr Downes, denied the two had been racing. The second Honda, which was stolen, subsequently also crashed but its two 16-year old occupants were uninjured.
The Authority has found the Police officer involved was justified in trying to stop both speeding cars. However the officer did not comply with policy. He told the Police Central Communications Centre that he was not engaged in a pursuit, yet in the Authority’s view, his actions amounted to a pursuit and as such he should have followed procedure. The Authority has recommended that the officer receive remedial training and that Police clarify other aspects of policy around following vehicles at speed.
In Mr Eden’s pursuit, he crashed into a power pole on Eastern Hutt Rd while driving at an estimated speed of 100-110kph in a 50kph area. He suffered serious head injuries and was charged with dangerous driving, failing to stop for red and blue flashing lights and driving whilst his licence was suspended. On 9 September 2011 Mr Eden pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced.
The Authority has found the Police officer was justified in commencing the pursuit but did not fully comply with some aspects of Police policy. It also found his speed of between 140-150kph, whilst lawful, was undesirable in the circumstances.
The Authority has recommended that the Police officer in this pursuit should also receive remedial training, and that Police should continue with the implementation of hands-free communication technology in all operational vehicles.