TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
With guns drawn, Brandon Police Service members take down a suspect (behind the vehicle) after a high-speed chase through Brandon. Now, a man charged in the incident says police should have called off the chase.
An unlikely critic has joined the ranks of those who have questioned why police didn’t call off a high-speed chase along a busy city street earlier this year — the man accused of being in the fleeing car.
Anthony Paul Blais — one of two suspects arrested in January at the end of the mid-morning chase along Victoria Avenue — says the pursuit was dangerous and police should have called it off.
"I think they know they should have pulled the chase off," Blais said in a recent phone call to the Brandon Sun from the Brandon jail where he’s being held. "I mean, there was no reason to continue that chase. I mean, if it was obviously unsafe. They’d already had one officer in an accident."
The Brandon Police Service fired back on Friday, during an interview with the police chief and other high-ranking official, saying the force had to act.
"We can’t let somebody run amok in our city," said the force’s media spokesperson, Sgt. Dallas Lockhart. "We have a responsibility, an obligation, to protect the citizens."
Blais, 42, and Laura Lee Dawn Palmer, 34, were both arrested on Jan. 2 following the chase that ended on the eastern outskirts of the city with a crash.
Police say the chase brought an end to a crime spree that began in Alberta and left a trail of break-ins and vehicle thefts as it went east through Saskatchewan and into Manitoba.
The pursuit actually began west of Brandon, when RCMP spotted a man and woman in a stolen pickup truck near Virden. Mounties, however, said they decided not to pursue the truck because of its high speed.
The man and woman then stole a car from Oak Lake, which Brandon police spotted as it turned onto Highway 1A and the suspects’ car reached 150 km/h as it headed toward the city.
On Victoria Avenue, just west of 34th Street, police made a failed effort to deploy a stop stick to deflate the tires of the fleeing vehicle.
The pursuit continued east along the length of Victoria Avenue — which is lined with businesses and homes — and ended when the suspects’ car turned onto Highway 110 and hit another civilian vehicle.
The BPS later confirmed that an unmarked police car was also in a single-vehicle collision near the intersection of 18th Street and Rosser Avenue. The officer hit a pole while avoiding a vehicle in front of him.
That police car wasn’t directly involved in the pursuit, police say. The officer was moving into position to assist, if needed — to block intersections, for example, or take control of the scene if there was a collision.
Nobody was seriously injured in the chase, nor in the separate collision that involved the unmarked police car.
Blais and Palmer both remain in custody and face numerous charges in relation to the crime spree, and each is charged with dangerous driving and flight from police in relation to the chase within the city.
Palmer was reportedly the driver as the car entered the city, right up to the time that a high-risk switch was made on Victoria Avenue East and Blais took the wheel.
The allegations against the couple haven’t been proven in court.
In the days following the chase, police were criticized for not calling it off, for letting it continue along a major city street.
Now, Blais himself says police should have halted the pursuit at 34th Street, after the failed effort to deploy the stop stick and before the suspect car went deeper into the city.
"Why would they put the Brandon public at risk?" Blais asked during his phone call from jail.
In that call, Blais called himself a "criminal" — he has a lengthy prior record — and acknowledges that he and Palmer are accused of being the ones who endangered lives.
But, he said, as public officials, police should "man up" if they’ve made a mistake.
He said he takes issue with a police account of the chase printed in a Brandon Sun article shortly after the incident.
In that account, police confirmed there’s constant radio contact between officers during a pursuit and it can be called off if it’s unsafe for officers, suspects and the general public.
However, they said the pursuit wasn’t cancelled because the suspect driver — believed to be Palmer at the time — had slowed down once inside the city and traffic wasn’t heavy.
While he couldn’t provide specific speeds, a BPS spokesman said the speed of the suspects’ car was reasonable and the chase would have been stopped if it was excessive.
However, Blais said he has seen the speeds in police notes and reports and says they were excessive.
He says officers note the fleeing car was going no slower than 100 km/h between traffic lights, and no slower than 60 km/h as it ran red lights.
Blais said police note the car was going 120 km/h to 140 km/h along Victoria Avenue East when his co-accused moved from the driver’s seat to the back seat and he jumped into the driver’s seat and took control. The vehicle swerved across the oncoming lane when that happened, he said.
But, the chase should have been stopped before that, Blais said — back in the west end near 34th Street when the stop stick was deployed.
He says a woman crossing the street was nearly hit by the stop stick when police threw it down. The suspects’ car then swerved and narrowly missed the woman.
On Friday, police were asked if, based on Blais’ account, they made a mistake by not calling off the pursuit.
BPS Chief Ian Grant said he was confident that policy and procedure were followed and that decisions made by all officers involved were sound given the circumstances.
While police wouldn’t supply the Brandon Sun with a copy of their pursuit policies — citing a need to protect police strategy — they said it favours stopping a pursuit over continuing it.
Lack of information via radio updates will result in a pursuit being stopped.
BPS Insp. Doug Thompson said that, when it comes to the events described by Blais at 34th Street, video and audio recordings from a patrol vehicle were reviewed and no pedestrians were on the street or the side of the street, or seen jumping out of the way.
Thompson agreed with Blais that the suspects’ car was going at least 60 km/h as it approached city intersections, but officers blocked several major streets that adjoin Victoria Avenue to protect other motorists.
During pursuits, there’s constant monitoring by radio. Officers can alert a staff sergeant at the office and a street supervisor of concerns and the pursuit can be stopped.
Thompson said they had to act to protect the public, given the suspect’s actions prior to entering the city.
When the suspects were still in the pickup west of the city, Mounties clocked them at 150 km/h to 160 km/h and the truck had rammed another vehicle, although there were no injuries.
Both the crash involving the police vehicle and the pursuit within the city were reviewed by the BPS.
Insp. Shane Corley said the collision investigation concluded that speed was a factor, and a Crown attorney is reviewing the matter to determine whether or not charges should be laid against the officer.
The force also reviewed the pursuit as a whole, but Thompson said no changes to any policies or procedures were made as a result.
Grant said the pursuit will be reviewed again as part of a policy to review such incidents at the end of each year.
» Twitter: @IanHitchen
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 10, 2014