Records: York police chief suspended 3 days in May because of high-speed pursuit

adouglas@heraldonline.com, jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJune 9, 2014 

York Police Chief Andy Robinson was suspended without pay for three days last month after an internal review uncovered several violations of the city’s pursuit policy during an April 4 high-speed chase of a stolen car, according to documents obtained by The Herald on Monday.

In May, City Manager Charlie Helms suspended Robinson for exercising “poor judgment” by failing to terminate the chase after some officers violated pursuit policy, according to disciplinary documents. Robinson was suspended on May 8, 9 and 12.

The Herald obtained the disciplinary records of Robinson and three other officers under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Robinson declined to comment on Monday afternoon.

After the chase ended, the car’s driver was arrested. The State Law Enforcement Division has conducted a separate investigation into Robinson’s use of force during the arrest. The S.C. 10th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, of Anderson and Oconee counties, will determine whether charges should be filed after reviewing SLED conclusions. The city of York’s disciplinary records do not mention Robinson’s actions during the arrest.

The disciplinary records obtained by The Herald on Monday show that York Police Lt. Dale Edwards was also disciplined for his role in the car chase. Edwards was suspended on May 8, meaning he went without pay for what would have been a 12-hour shift.

Edwards also declined to comment on Monday.

York police officials cited several reasons for Edwards’ one-day suspension, including that he continued to pursue the suspect “at extremely dangerous speeds” although the suspect appeared “to do anything to prevent capture.”

During the pursuit, officers reached speeds of 137 miles per hour, police documents show.

Two of the department’s newest police officers received formal reprimands for violating the city’s pursuit policy on April 4, disciplinary records show.

Officers Matthew Piper and Trinity Redmond were written up and required to review the department’s chase policy. Their violations included engaging in the chase without using emergency equipment such as police car sirens or blue lights, according to the disciplinary records.

Piper and Redmond could not be reached by The Herald on Monday.

After department officials reviewed the pursuit and uncovered policy violations, Helms and others said officers would be re-trained on pursuit procedures. Also, Helms will now review all police pursuit evaluation records prepared by the department, Helms told The Herald on Monday.

Helms said the April 4 chase was the first violation of the city’s pursuit policy by both Robinson and Edwards.

York Mayor Eddie Lee said he did not learn of the disciplinary measures until last Tuesday when he questioned Helms about it during the city manager’s own evaluation with City Council. Still, Lee says he thinks Robinson should have faced a stricter punishment.

“I would have handled it differently if I had been city manager,” Lee said. “I think when I learned about the chase on April 4, I would have placed the chief on administrative leave until the conclusion of the investigation by the solicitor.”

Helms has told The Herald he did not place Robinson on administrative leave because he did not think the allegations warranted such discipline.

Lee disagrees, saying, “It was a serious violation of the city of York’s pursuit policy and it had serious questions associated with it about excessive force.”

Pursuit review: Chase showed ‘poor judgment’

The recent disciplinary action came after a review of the chase by department officials and Helms.

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.

As York officers pursued the car thief, there were examples of police acting carelessly and dangerously, according to several reviews in the evaluation file. Officers must weigh their decision to chase with the potential danger a suspect poses to the public, according to York Police Department policy.

One officer – who officials said then had 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.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068, Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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