Police broke rules in high speed chase

CRASH RECOVERY: The car that went off a Beach Haven wharf after hitting a policeman who was laying road spikes.
CRASH RECOVERY: The car that went off a Beach Haven wharf after hitting a policeman who was laying road spikes.

Police have been rebuked by their disciplinary body for the pursuit of a P-affected driver which saw an officer seriously injured when the runaway car hit him at high speed.

In a ruling released today the Independent Police Conduct Authority says three police officers and a pursuit controller breached policy in the 16 minute pursuit over 10 kilometres on Auckland's North Shore early in the morning of March 24 last year.

In another ruling released today, the actions of police in a Christchurch pursuit that resulted in the deaths of three people did comply with the law.

In the North Shore incident, a police dog handler - known as "Officer A" - first saw a Ford Fairlane at 3.47am with four people in it, including driver Sheean Heta who later admitted he was "still high on meth" and the effects of the methamphetamine made him do what his passengers told him.

Heta had stolen the car and removed its number plate, replacing it with one from his mother's car.

They did not stop and a pursuit began.

The controller at the Northern Communications Centre (NorthComms) twice ordered it to be abandoned but Officer A ignored the order.

During the chase road spikes were put out near the motorway on-ramp.

Officer C, a police constable, stood on the median strip of the road to deploy the spikes as the Fairlane came toward him.

He then moved into a lane.

"I was aware I was at some risk but at that stage while he was still in the fourth lane and carrying on that path I didn't have any particular concerns for my safety, no," he told the authority.

As he walked backward he saw the car coming toward him as Heta drove across three lanes.

"Next thing I knew the car was bearing down on me, I was right in the centre of it. In all honesty I couldn't quite believe that it was happening, that he was actually intentionally aiming for me and so I started walking backwards."

Officer A radioed that an ambulance was an absolute priority: "This offender rammed the officer; he rammed the officer; he lined him up."

Heta later said his male passenger suggested that he hit Officer C, so he did.

He estimated that he was travelling at between 80kmh and 100kmh when he hit the officer and that he thought that the officer might have died as a result.

Heta lost a tyre as he drove over the spikes but kept going.

Officer A was ordered to stop but kept going.

He defended his action: "Well they obviously had made a decision that an officer had been hurt and they wanted to abandon the pursuit for reasons I don't know, I don't understand why they abandoned that pursuit at that stage.

"Yeah these are exceptional circumstances so yeah I made a decision that I believed was justified at the time because of the seriousness of what I had just witnessed.

"Our offender wasn't just trying to get away, he lined up (Officer C) in a deliberate action. I had no idea who he was, I hadn't seen his face, I'd only seen him from behind and I could not have identified him."

The vehicle caught fire but was driven on and ended up going off the end of the wharf.

All four occupants were uninjured and swam out into the estuary. They were found later.

Heta, 23, was disqualified from driving.

He had over 50 previous convictions. He pleaded guilty to multiple charges related to the chase and was sentenced to seven years and one month imprisonment.

Heta described his driving as dangerous because "of how fast I was going. How fast I was going around corners.

"Sometimes the car was like sliding towards the other side of the road but sometimes I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I did that because I thought the police would abandon the chase."

Officer C suffered mild traumatic brain injury, a dental injury, and cuts, grazes and bruises.

Justice Lowell Goddard, who chairs the authority, said the initial assessment around Heta and the car and law breaking was correct.

"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," she said.

"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."

All three officers have been given refresher training.

Waitemata Police District Commander Superintendent Bill Searle acknowledged the report and said they were acting on the recommendations.

"While the police agree that the uncoordinated actions of the police staff were a factor, it is important to remember that it was the actions of the fleeing driver that ultimately caused the sequence of events," he said in the statement.