Chief responds to public’s criticism on release of man involved in fatal accident
© — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) Chief Robert Johnston speaks to media outside RNC headquarters at Fort Townshend on Tuesday afternoon about the RNC’s policies regarding the release and detention of individuals under the Criminal Code of Canada.
There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding whether or not a person under arrest should remain in police custody or be released prior to their first courtroom appearance, Chief Robert Johnston of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) says.
“When somebody is arrested for some type of offence, we have to take into account how can we have that person appear before the court, so we can do that either by detaining the person to appear before a judge, we can release that person on an appearance notice, or we can release that individual with a promise to appear by placing conditions through an undertaking,” said Johnston, who met with reporters Tuesday outside RNC headquarters in St. John’s.
“When we look at each case on its own merit, each case is different. When we look at whether or not we’re going to detain somebody, we look at whether or not that person has a criminal offence or background, whether or not they’re under any type of (court-ordered) conditions, or is there any other extenuating circumstances why that person should be detained or should be released.”
Johnston’s comments follow last Friday’s fatal accident in St. John’s. Police arrested and charged a 65-year-old for impaired driving causing death after his pickup truck collided with the motorcycle.. He was released from custody and will appear in court at a later date.
Nicholas Terrance Lawlor Coates, 27, died from injuries sustained during the accident, which happened late Friday morning on Kenmount Road near Polina Road.
Since the arrest of the accused, some have questioned the appropriateness of his release from custody prior to appearing in court given the matter involves a man’s death.
Multiple comments posted in response to a story on the accident published on The Telegram’s website last Friday addressed that point.
“What? (D)id I read that right? (K)ill someone then get released on the same day,” said one such commenter.
On the matter of whether or not a person should be detained or released from custody, Johnston said officers are bound by the Criminal Code of Canada.
“These are very difficult circumstances, and it’s not lost on the police officers that a tragedy occurred last Friday. A young man early in his life had it taken away from him. ... Our job is not to impose a sentence. Our job is to make sure that (the accused) appears before a judge, and there’s a criteria outlined on how we go about doing that.”
Johnston said emotion cannot get in the way of how an officer handles their job. When making decisions concerning the detention of a person arrested, the RNC consults its legal services branch.
“In this particular case, that’s what we did,” he said.
Additional details given consideration before a person is released from custody include the safety of the victim and the likelihood of the accused posing a flight risk or leaving the province.
On the issue of impaired driving, Johnston spoke of the RNC’s continued commitment to catching those who choose to commit such crimes.
He noted the North East Avalon RNC experienced an 11 per cent increase in the number of impaired driving-related arrests it made in 2012 compared to the previous year, adding that tips from the public have been a great help.
“Some people I’ve heard over the last couple of days have said that means there’s more impaired drivers on our streets. I’d say no. What I’d say is that our police officers are being diligent out there, but more importantly or just as important is that the community are involved as well. The community are not going to tolerate people drinking and driving ... As a community and a police service, we’re better at catching them.”
Johnston also offered his condolences to the family of the victim while speaking with reporters.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the victim and his family,” he said.