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East Valley Tribune - Mesa, AZ, USA

Scottsdale officers punished for high-speed chase

Police pursued another car

By Nick Martin, Tribune
October 29, 2005

"Police officers have been punished for their roles in a high-speed car chase ... has spurred the department to look again recently at its policy on police chases."

SCOTTSDALE —Five Scottsdale police officers have been punished for their roles in a high-speed car chase that turned deadly in April on Loop 101.

The list of punishments along with the results of a police internal investigation were released Friday and add up to 150 hours of suspension, one demotion and a letter of reprimand between the five officers.

In April, Scottsdale officers chased David Szymanski, 22, of Fountain Hills around south Scottsdale neighborhoods before he got on southbound Loop 101, headed the wrong direction.
Police believe Szymanski was driving 85 to 90 mph when his car collided head on with another car, killing that car’s passenger, Cody Morrison, also 22.

The whole thing lasted about 10 minutes but has spawned two police investigations, including the one released Friday, and a claim by Morrison’s family asking the city for $3 million after the first investigation called the chase improper.

The most recent investigation, requested by Police Chief Alan Rodbell in August, differed somewhat from the first conducted by a board that reviews police pursuits and collisions. But it reached essentially the same conclusion: Officers should have never chased Szymanski and their supervisors should have called them off the chase.

Those supervisors, Lt. Todd Muilenberg and Sgts. Dan Rincon and Rob Ryan, received the most severe punishment of any of the officers involved.

Muilenberg and Rincon were suspended without pay. Ryan was demoted to the rank of officer. The officer who chased Szymanski for nearly the entire 10 minutes until the fatal crash, officer Carrie Candler, was given a shorter suspension without pay and officer Aaron Crawford, who also took part in the chase, was given a letter of reprimand.

According to the paperwork released Friday, Muilenberg, Rincon and Candler have disputed certain details of the most recent investigation’s findings.

This chase also has spurred the department to look again recently at its policy on police chases. Police spokesman Sgt. Mark Clark said a few minor changes were made to clarify the policy, but at its heart, it remains the same.

According to Scottsdale’s pursuit policy, chases are only allowed when the person police are chasing is suspected of a violent or dangerous felony or there is an "immediate and articulable" threat to human life.

Stated plainly, officers are asked to, in a moment’s notice, weigh the crime committed versus the threat to public safety a pursuit would create.

In this case, police wanted to talk to Szymanski about reports in the area of a vehicle causing criminal damage, a misdemeanor, the recent investigation report states.

They also had unconfirmed reports that the owner of his vehicle had a warrant for another misdemeanor.

The internal investigator, Sgt. Jeff Walther, states in the report that the chase that followed, with Szymanski driving 70 mph at times and running red lights to elude police, according to department policy, should never have happened.

"They do pay us to make decisions, but these are not easy decisions to make," said Scottsdale officer Chet Anderson, who is president of the Scottsdale Fraternal Order of Police. "The Internal Affairs Division and the investigators have the luxury of spending many hours looking at" decisions officers on the ground made in seconds, he said.

Anderson commented briefly Friday night about the chase and its aftermath.
"At the end of the day . . . it’s a tragic event," Anderson said. "It’s affected the lives of everyone involved."

Contact Nick Martin <> or phone (480) 898-6380

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Copyright 2005