Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Order to stop chase defied

Cops kept pursuing car with teenage hostage

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It was three-hour police pursuit that ended with the rescue of a kidnapped teen and the arrest of a rapist.

But the outcome could have been much different if several Winnipeg police officers didn't make the bold decision to ignore their most senior supervisor who demanded they give up the 100-kilometre-plus chase.

The Free Press has uncovered new details about the June 2011 incident, which played out publicly in court last week at the sentencing hearing for the accused.

Specifically, the duty inspector who was overseeing street operations that night instructed officers to pull back and allow the RCMP to try to pick up the trail once the suspect -- who had randomly carjacked a vehicle driven by a 16-year-old girl -- began heading out of the city.

But members of the street-crime unit, K-9 unit and even the AIR1 helicopter patrol defied orders and continued the chase, eventually catching the suspect west of Portage la Prairie.

"Patrol officers were incensed," one of four different police sources told the Free Press Tuesday. "Many people felt it was an example of someone following rules and procedures rather than being courageous and doing the right thing."

The duty inspector worried the chase would leave the city without adequate policing.

"Officers were quite upset, to say the least, that it had to be aborted. I think what happened is some guys just pretended to abort it, while others just said f it and kept going," said a second veteran police source.

A handful of general patrol officers initially involved in the call did stop, as instructed. But the majority carried on.

"They ignored (the demand) and for damned good reason," a third officer said.

Police were concerned about the girl and the message that would be sent by stopping the chase once it went beyond the Perimeter.

"You don't want violent felons to establish the viewpoint that they can just leave the jurisdiction and WPS members won't pursue them," said one of the officers.

As well, there were concerns about the limited ability of RCMP to assist, especially so late at night and on such short notice.

Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said Tuesday none of his members was disciplined for insubordination. He said allowing the bad guy an easy getaway "completely goes against the grain of everything you believe in."

Sutherland conceded there are always resource and budgetary concerns, especially when it comes to overtime, but added a police officer can't worry about that in the heat of a critical incident.

"If there is a coin toss between a budgetary concern and a life-and-death situation, police are going to go where duty calls," he said.

One police source confirmed there were several heated, closed-door meetings following the incident as those involved in the case vented their frustration to management.

"This was so contentious and upsetting for so many," he said.

A request for comment from the police executive was not returned Tuesday.

Several officers involved in the chase testified last week at the sentencing hearing for the accused, calling it one of the most frightening cases with which they've been involved.

Their sense of urgency was buoyed by the fact the victim was calling from her hijacked vehicle, telling a 911 operator, "I don't want to die" and pleading for help.

Police closed in on the suspect based on their ability to track her cellphone. Eventually, the girl fled the vehicle and hid in the bush when her attacker stopped to steal another vehicle shortly after raping her.

Officers in the helicopter saw him drive into a flooded field on a stolen quad. A member of the K-9 team, Const. Scott Taylor, cornered him in a swamp. A police dog bit the accused in the face and arm during his arrest.

The Crown is seeking a 14-year sentence for Clay Byron Starr, a Winnipeg street-gang associate with a lengthy, violent record.

"This is the type of offence that strikes at the heart of a community and strikes fear in citizens that they, too, could be victims of this type of random act of violence," Crown attorney Nicole Roch said during her submission.

Starr's lawyer has asked for six years, blaming Starr's actions on his excessive use of drugs and alcohol.

A verdict will be handed down Oct. 17.

The Free Press obtained a videotape showing the final moments of the chase, which was shot from the helicopter and presented in court last week.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2013 0


Updated on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 12:44 PM CDT: Adds video

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