Two more cops suspended as probe into deadly hit-and-run widens
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/10/2017 (2047 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two Winnipeg police officers have been suspended and are being investigated for possibly interfering in the probe of a colleague charged in a deadly hit-and-run allegedly fuelled by alcohol.
The alleged interference could damage the criminal case against Const. Justin Holz.
At a hastily called a news conference Friday afternoon, Chief Danny Smyth revealed the latest twist, including the fact there was up to a four-hour delay in administering breathalyzer tests to Holz.
“I expect members of the police service to act professionally. While I do not know if the two officers have done anything criminal, it is in the best interests of the service that they be removed from duty,” Smyth said.
Const. Justin Holz was arrested on the evening of Oct. 10 after 23-year-old Cody Severight was struck and killed on Main Street near Sutherland Avenue around 8 p.m.
Holz, 34, is accused of fleeing the scene. Witnesses say he was speeding and driving erratically. He turned himself in approximately 30 minutes later, calling police while stopped on north Main Street about seven kilometres away. Holz has been charged with impaired driving causing death and leaving the scene of an accident. The eight-year veteran has been suspended with pay and will make his first court appearance Nov. 22.
Smyth revealed Friday breathalyzer testing wasn’t done on Holz until three and four hours after Severight was killed. No explanation for such a lengthy and potentially critical delay was given, but the news was tied into the allegations of potential wrongdoing against the other two officers.
“Certainly, as you can see through my actions, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people that aren’t going to do their job or act professionally. So we will deal with that head-on. I don’t want to paint the whole service as something that it’s not, because this isn’t the whole service. We will deal with the conduct of individual officers if they step out of line,” said Smyth.
The Free Press previously reported that Holz blew just under the legal limit – but investigators believe he would have been legally impaired at the time of the crash based on scientific extrapolation that factors in how much alcohol was consumed, when the last drink was downed and how the body processes alcohol in the bloodstream. He is not currently charged with driving over .08.
It certainly raises the possibility the two officers — both believed to be members of the traffic unit — may have played a role in delaying the testing. For example, were they the ones who dealt with Holz after he called to turn himself in?
Readings of under .08 would certainly make it more difficult to prove an impaired driving case.
“The Winnipeg Police Service notified the IIU about the irregular and improper conduct of two officers in the immediate aftermath of the October 10th traffic fatality,” the Independent Investigation Unit said in their own statement released Friday afternoon.
As the Free Press reported exclusively last weekend, Holz was with as many as six other colleagues in the hours preceding the crash drinking at The Pint, a downtown lounge less than a block from the Public Safety Building. All of the officers had got off duty around 4:30 p.m. that day. The CBC reported Friday that one of the two officers under suspension was at the Pint at the same time as Holz, but was not drinking with him.
Known as “shifters,” there have been a handful of controversial cases in Winnipeg over the years where police were accused of turning a blind eye to the drinking habits of colleagues who later found themselves in trouble with the law. The most notorious occurred in 2005 when Crystal Taman was killed by off-duty cop Derek Harvey-Zenk. The mishandling of that case by East St. Paul police, laid bare in a scathing public inquiry, actually led to the creation of the IIU.
Smyth said Friday he couldn’t discuss what the two suspended may have done, pending an ongoing investigation that is being led by the IIU. He said neither officer was drinking with Holz, nor did they attend the scene of the tragic crash nor administer a series of breathalyzer tests on Holz. That does raise the possibility they were the ones who dealt with his arrest. Smyth didn’t release their names or any other personal information about them because neither is facing charges at this time.
“We were asked to assist the IIU in a number of aspects of the investigation including some forensic examination, scene examination and technical testing used to establish impairment. At one point, over 50 WPS officers and staff assisted,” Smyth said.
The chief said he was notified by members of his executive team on Thursday about the “conduct of two officers who were assigned to assist.” He didn’t say specifically what their role in the case was or if it could potentially contaminate the case against Holz down the road.
“Their actions caused me enough concern that I contacted the director of the IIU. They have agreed to investigate,” said Smyth. “I am in a difficult position because I cannot comment about specifics of the IIU investigation. Details of the investigation will come out in due course by the director of the IIU.”
Smyth said he has also assigned one of his homicide unit sergeants to “coordinate and liaise” with the IIU.
As for the other officers who were drinking with Holz prior to the crash, Smyth said a review into their conduct remains ongoing. One of the key questions is whether they could have, or should have, stopped him from getting behind the wheel.
“Of course I am concerned. One of the reasons I am here today, one of the reasons I was out up front originally, is to show people that when we discover wrongdoing or perceived wrongdoing, we brought that forward. We discovered this, we brought it to IIU, we will deal with that head-on,” Smyth said Friday.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Friday, October 20, 2017 6:46 PM CDT: Writethrough