The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that an officer's decision to fire three warning shots to stop a fleeing driver from reversing towards him was not justified.
On 12 November 2017 Police patrolling in the Huntly area encountered a man who they wanted to arrest for a family harm incident. Police told the man that he was under arrest but before they could handcuff him he fled in a Toyota motor vehicle. Police pursued him.
An officer heard the pursuit called over the Police radio and travelled to assist. He decided to arm himself with a pistol because he thought the Toyota may have been linked to an armed robbery that had occurred in Hamilton six hours earlier. He used road spikes to try to stop the Toyota as it travelled along State Highway 1, but in trying to avoid the spikes and continue fleeing, the driver attempted a U-turn. During this time the officer ran towards the rear of the Toyota. As the man began reversing to complete the U-turn, the officer fired three warning shots into the ground in an attempt to make him stop.
The Authority found that neither the officer's decision to arm nor to fire warning shots were reasonable.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty said: "the officer had no sound basis for his decision to arm in the first place. He then unnecessarily placed himself in a dangerous situation. Rather than firing the pistol that he should not have been carrying, he could have jumped out of the way of the reversing car."
Meanwhile, the pursuing Police arrived. They used their car to push the Toyota off the road to prevent the driver from completing his U-turn.
The Authority found that although nudging an offender's vehicle is not an approved Police tactic, it was justified in these specific circumstances. The key consideration was the potential significant risk to the public if the fleeing driver had been able to complete the U-turn and drive down the wrong side of State Highway 1 into oncoming traffic. The very slow speed of both cars was also an important factor.
The man surrendered, and Police pulled him from the car onto the ground, but he refused to let go of the seatbelt. An officer then kicked the man to the midriff to make him release the seatbelt.
The Authority found that this kick was not justified.
The Authority also found that the pursuit was otherwise properly commenced and conducted safely in accordance with the law and Police policy.
Shots fired to warn fleeing driver in Huntly (PDF 441 KB)