May 15, 2014

City manager: York Police chief violated chase policy

Three York Police Department officers and Chief Andy Robinson violated police pursuit policies when they chased a car thief and reached speeds of 137 miles per hour last month, according to the department’s recent review of the incident.

Three York Police Department officers and Chief Andy Robinson violated police pursuit policies when they chased a car thief and reached speeds of 137 miles per hour last month, according to the department’s recent review of the incident.

The review of the chase does not address concerns about Robinson’s actions during the April 4 arrest of the car thief. Video of the arrest obtained by The Herald last month raises questions about whether Robinson stepped on the handcuffed suspect who was lying on the ground after the chase.

The State Law Enforcement Division investigated Robinson’s actions and the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office of Spartanburg and Cherokee counties will review SLED’s findings. Details of that investigation have not been released.

In reviewing the April 4 chase, York City Manager Charlie Helms says Robinson failed to take command and should have ended the pursuit when officers reached dangerous speeds and put other drivers at risk.

The Herald obtained the department’s “pursuit evaluation file” of the chase through a Freedom of Information Act request. Three top police officials and Helms reviewed the chase.

Robinson “failed to balance the need for the suspect’s apprehension with the potential danger to the officer, suspect and the community,” Helms wrote. It’s unclear how fast Robinson was driving, Helms told The Herald on Thursday, because there was no video camera in his vehicle.

Robinson could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Helms described the lack of a video camera in Robinson’s car as “standard procedure,” noting that the department’s captains also do not have video in their police cars.

The chase, which happened around midday and began in the city of York, presented “many opportunities for disaster” and “showed very poor judgment” and negligence, York Police Lt. Michael Keith Wills wrote in his review.

Officers must weigh their decision to chase with the potential danger a suspect poses to the public against the risks in a pursuit, according to York Police Department’s policy.

Others’ reviews stated that authorities had help from OnStar, an in-car security software, which initially led them to the stolen car and could have been used to track the suspect and the car – eliminating the need for a dangerous pursuit.

OnStar representatives can work with authorities to track a car using satellite technology.

As York officers pursued the car thief, there were examples of police acting carelessly and dangerously, according to several reviews in the evaluation file.

One officer – who officials say has not been certified by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy – acted “unnecessary and negligent” when he entered the opposite lane of travel going nearly 100 miles per hour, Wills wrote.

He added that “a collision at this speed head on with another vehicle would have most likely been fatal.”

Several reports stated that back-up officers were not given proper supervision or direction from superior officers during the chase. “Some of the issues may have been prevented with proper instruction,” Wills wrote.

The reports note several times when officers were engaged in the chase without using sirens or emergency lights, which is a violation of department policy.

At least one York officer “put innocent lives and his own at risk by his actions,” Capt. Brian Trail wrote.

Trail also wrote, “The pursuit should have been terminated very shortly after it began. It was apparent that the suspect was going to do whatever it took to get away and the speeds became excessive and dangerous.”

Department policy calls for mandatory termination of a pursuit for many reasons, including if the officer is lost, loses contact with dispatchers, loses sight of the suspect car for more than 15 seconds or “when it is obvious that the fleeing suspect is going to do whatever is necessary to get away.”

The internal review of the April 4 chase confirms that the pursuit was “excessive and reckless,” York Mayor Eddie Lee told The Herald on Thursday. He raised questions about whether policies were followed last month when The Herald first reported on the police chase.

“There was nothing routine about this,” Lee said. The chase “endangered the lives of officers and scores of innocent citizens.”

He noted that young police officers were involved in the pursuit and that the officers’ actions set a “terrible example” for them. Lee said he had sworn in one of the officers just three days before the April 4 chase.

Robinson should have been placed on administrative leave immediately after the chase and the SLED investigation, Lee said.

The police chief reports to York’s city manager. Robinson has not been placed on administrative leave.

Neither the SLED probe nor the chase, Helms said, “warranted” putting Robinson on administrative leave.

“It doesn’t affect his job,” he said.

The chase, Lee said, will be part of Helms’ evaluation by the York City Council in June. York’s police officers are excellent, he said, but last month’s high-speed pursuit raises “serious concerns about the leadership of the department.”

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