Silence on ex-cop’s state Police, IIU, province, prosecutor won't discuss results of delayed breathalyzer test on off-duty WPS officer convicted in 2017 Main Street hit-and-run that killed pedestrian
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/11/2019 (1065 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Although former Winnipeg police officer Justin Holz has been convicted in a hit-and-run collision that killed a pedestrian, it appears key details from that October 2017 night will remain shrouded in mystery.
Both Manitoba Justice and the province’s police watchdog are refusing to shed light on the length of time it took police to administer a breathalyzer test to Holz after Cody Severight was killed on Main Street just north of the Higgins underpass.
The agencies also refuse to comment on the off-duty constable’s blood-alcohol level when the test was finally administered.
Holz, 36, was convicted of one count of dangerous driving causing death last Wednesday in a plea bargain that saw the Crown stay additional charges, including impaired driving causing death and failure to stop at the scene of a fatal crash.
On Monday, the Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba released its final report on two other WPS officers — one a breathalyzer technician, the other a member of the traffic unit — who were accused of misconduct the night Severight was killed.
It was alleged the breathalyzer technician disobeyed an order to administer the test on Holz after he was arrested on Oct. 10, 2017, causing a delay in registering his blood-alcohol level.
However, the IIU cleared the officer of wrongdoing, after witnesses said the breathalyzer technician did not refuse a formal order to perform the test, but rather expressed his discomfort at doing so.
As a result, the officer in charge chose to call in a second breathalyzer technician to administer the test. It’s not clear how long it took for the second technician to arrive.
Absent from IIU civilian director Zane Tessler’s final report were details on when — exactly — the test was administered and what Holz’s blood-alcohol reading was.
An IIU spokeswoman declined comment Monday.
“I’m advised that it would be most appropriate to direct you to the Crown, as the prosecution still has conduct of this matter and is therefore the agency to control the release of the specific information you requested,” she said in a written statement.
“Contacts there are either Michael Mahon, assistant deputy attorney general, or Russel Ridd, director of regional prosecutions.”
The Free Press requested the information from Manitoba Justice, identifying Ridd and Mahon by name. However, in a written statement, a Manitoba Justice spokeswoman also declined comment.
“As this matter was prosecuted by outside counsel, we do not have further details beyond what is on the court record,” the provincial spokeswoman said.
Since Holz was an off-duty police officer at the time of the offence, Manitoba Justice assigned a special prosecutor — Crown attorney William Burge from Saskatchewan — to the case.
According to the agreed statement of facts read in court, Holz was given a demand to submit to a breathalyzer at 9:05 p.m., but it was not revealed when the test was administered.
The collision that killed Severight happened at 8:03 p.m. After fleeing the scene, Holz called 911 to turn himself in roughly 10 minutes after the crash.
In the days after Holz’s arrest, police said it took between three to four hours for a breathalyzer to be administered — although it’s not clear whether the reference was from the time the crash occurred, or from the time a sample was demanded.
Once the test was administered, Holz’s blood-alcohol level “did not exceed the legal limit,” Burge said in court last week. No further details on Holz’s blood-alcohol level were provided.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Burge declined comment, saying he would not provide any details beyond what was said in court.
When asked Tuesday if Manitobans had a right to know the information, Justice Minister Cliff Cullen twice sidestepped the question.
“I’m not going to speak to the operational component of that,” Cullen said.
While Tessler did not recommend charges against the breathalyzer technician, he did advise the WPS to launch an internal investigation into the officer’s conduct.
The WPS has refused to say whether it launched an internal probe as suggested and — if so — what the outcome was.
Cullen said Tuesday it isn’t the Justice Department’s role to intervene between the agencies.
“The role of the Independent Investigation Unit is just that: they are independent of Manitoba Justice. So they certainly did their work in this particular case. They brought forward recommendations to the Winnipeg Police Service,” Cullen said.
“It will be up to the Winnipeg Police Service in terms of how they deal with those recommendations.”
— With files from Soloman Israel
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Thursday, November 7, 2019 1:24 PM CST: clarifies why breathalyzer technician was cleared of wrongdoing