An independent Police Conduct Authority report released today has found that a Police officer unjustifiably engaged in dangerous driving when pursuing a fleeing driver up the wrong side of the motorway, State Highway 1, near Tawa last year.
Around 11:05pm on Thursday 12 June 2014 two road Policing officers from Porirua came across three men standing near a parked Mazda Familia on Main Road, Tawa. After conducting registration and identity searches the officers found that the car was subject to a non-operation order because the rear suspension of the vehicle had been illegally modified and that one of the men, 22 year-Leslie Paaka, was disqualified from driving. It was later reported by one of the officers that he suspected Mr Paaka may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One of the officers then telephoned another patrol car and requested that it wait near Takapu Road north of the Mazda and stop it if it drove past.
At around 11:33pm the two officers parked on Takapu Road noticed the Mazda turn onto Takapu Road and as instructed they began to follow the vehicle, activating their lights and siren to signal the driver to stop. When the driver failed to do so the officers decided to commence a pursuit. The driver, Mr Paaka, continued on Takapu Road before driving north up the off-ramp and entering the south bound lanes of State Highway 1, travelling in the wrong direction. The officers in the patrol car continued to follow the vehicle on to the wrong side of the motorway.
A short time later the officers saw headlights coming towards the Mazda. The oncoming car, driven by Ms Ellen Graham swerved towards the centre barrier to avoid an accident but the Mazda clipped the front corner of her Mitsubishi. Mr Paaka stopped on the motorway shoulder about 200 metres north of the crash scene where he was immediately arrested by Police. Ms Graham and her passenger Ms Karen Robinson were shaken from the incident but uninjured.
From the point the officers began following Mr Paaka, this incident covered a distance of approximately two kilometres and lasted about 45 seconds.
In releasing today’s report Independent Police Conduct Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers, said the Authority has found that the lead officer driving the Police vehicle and engaging in the pursuit did so primarily on the basis that the Mazda was subject to a non-operation order and that the driver was disqualified and was speeding. He may also have taken into account the likelihood that the driver was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, which subsequently proved to be the case.
During the investigation process the lead officer justified his actions in driving on the wrong side of the motorway on the basis that his siren and flashing lights would warn on-coming motorists of the fleeing driver approaching.
“The Authority has formed the view that this does not justify the officer’s actions,” Sir David said.
“The officer’s actions in following the car onto the wrong side of State Highway 1, at 80kph, were not likely to reduce risk. Indeed the flashing lights and siren of the Police car were more likely to distract and confuse oncoming drivers and decrease the likelihood that they would take effective evasive action. They were not actions that a competent and experienced Police officer should take.
“For these reasons the Authority has concluded, based on the balance of probabilities, that the officer’s actions amounted to dangerous driving and were contrary to law,” Sir David said.
The Authority therefore recommends that Police commence disciplinary proceedings under the Police Code of Conduct against the officer in respect of the actions.
The Authority also reiterates the recommendation made in a previous report that Police introduce in the ongoing revision of the Fleeing Driver Policy a strong presumption against pursuits on the wrong side of a dual carriageway that may be overridden only in extreme circumstances.
The Authority notes that the Police investigation into the actions of both officers is ongoing. Mr Paaka was subsequently convicted of various charges resulting from this incident.
Summary Report Police actions during a pursuit in Tawa (PDF 438 KB)