Const. Justin Holz, charged after hit-and-run killed Cody Severight
Winnipeg’s police chief says off-duty officers have the same right as anyone else to socialize after work, sometimes with alcohol.
But Chief Danny Smyth says like anyone else, if an officer has too much to drink and gets behind the wheel of a car, he or she has crossed a line.
Smyth faced questions at a news conference Friday about whether there is a culture among police officers of going for an after-drink work.
One off-duty officer was charged this week with impaired driving causing death and failing to stop at the scene of an accident after a fatal hit-and-run that killed pedestrian Cody Severight, 23.
Smyth said the investigation being carried out by Manitoba’s Independent Investigations Unit could result in further charges against Const. Justin Holz, 34, and also said there will be an internal review that won’t be made public.
Severight’s aunt, Nancy Gabriel, has expressed concern that the person responsible for her nephew’s death “doesn’t get away with it,” adding her family just wants justice.
Smyth noted he does not have to wait for the criminal case to be resolved.
“If I consider their conduct to be so egregious that they can’t continue as a police member, my recommendation would be to dismiss,” Smyth said.
Robert Taman helped establish the IIU while serving on the Manitoba Police Commission after his wife was killed in a collision with an off-duty officer who had been at a party a short time before. He said he knows the heartbreak of the Severight family all too well.
“I would hope that the IIU will investigate it fully and they’ll be transparent,” Taman told CTV Winnipeg. “And that the family will be satisfied in the end with the investigation.”
Taman has long called for tougher penalties for drunk drivers and spoken out against the behaviour of police who drink and then get in their vehicles.
However, Smyth said he sees impaired driving as more of “a problem in our society in general.”
“We see people that get killed in car accidents and with impaired driving. Our officers are part of the community too; we’re not immune from those problems.”
Smyth said when it comes to dealing internally with problem drinking among officers, discipline wouldn’t be his first approach.
“Like anything in our society, when we become aware that somebody might be struggling with a problem, my first instinct is to try to help them,” he said, adding that officers have access to resources for help.
“If they get involved in conduct that involves criminal conduct, that really limits what I can do.”
The allegations against Holz have not been proven in court. He was released on a promise to appear, and will make his first court appearance on Nov. 22.
He was also placed on administrative leave with pay.