Was ac­cused drink­ing with fel­low cops be­fore fa­tal crash?

Winnipeg Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE MCIN­TYRE AND BILL RE­DEKOP

HE ac­tions of a Win­nipeg po­lice of­fi­cer — and by ex­ten­sion that of his col­leagues — are un­der a ju­di­cial mi­cro­scope fol­low­ing a deadly hit-and-run that is be­lieved to have been fu­elled by al­co­hol.

Justin Holz, an eight-year con­sta­ble, fin­ished up his shift in the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions unit at downtown po­lice head­quar­ters around 4:30 p.m. Tues­day. Less than four hours later, Holz was ac­cused of a crim­i­nal act that took the life of a 23-year-old man and put his own fu­ture in jeop­ardy.

“I want to send my thoughts and con­do­lences to the vic­tim’s fam­ily. This is an un­ex­pected tragedy. This of­fi­cer will be held ac­count­able for his ac­tions,” Win­nipeg Po­lice Ser­vice Chief Danny Smyth said Wednesday af­ter­noon dur­ing a news con­fer­ence. “I want to make it clear that Const. Holz is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated crim­i­nally for his con­duct. He will be treated ac­cord­ingly re­gard­less of the fact that he’s a mem­ber of the po­lice ser­vice.”

THolz, 34, is charged with im­paired driv­ing caus­ing death and fail­ing to stop at the scene of an ac­ci­dent. He wasn’t de­tained in cus­tody, in­stead given a prom­ise to ap­pear in court Nov. 22. The WPS has sus­pended him with pay “for now,” but Smyth said that could change as an on­go­ing re­view of his con­duct con­tin­ues.

“I’m very dis­ap­pointed. My heart goes out to the fam­ily. We’re paid as po­lice of­fi­cers. I ex­pect bet­ter de­ci­sion-mak­ing,” said Smyth, adding he’s open to sit­ting down with the vic­tim’s fam­ily.

The In­de­pen­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit of Man­i­toba was no­ti­fied and took con­trol of the case. As this mat­ter in­volves a fa­tal­ity, the IIU has re­quested the Man­i­toba Po­lice Com­mis­sion ap­point a civil­ian mon­i­tor, as re­quired un­der leg­is­la­tion.

Smyth said one of the main is­sues the IIU will fo­cus on is what hap­pened in that brief win­dow be­tween the end of Holz’s shift and the fa­tal crash.

He said it’s not un­usual for of­fi­cers to go out with col­leagues for drinks once their shifts are done — but find­ing out who else may have been with Holz and what they ob­served will be crit­i­cal.

Known as “shifters,” there have been a hand­ful of con­tro­ver­sial cases in Win­nipeg over the years where po­lice were ac­cused of turn­ing a blind eye to the drink­ing habits of col­leagues who later found them­selves in trou­ble with the law. The most no­to­ri­ous oc­curred in 2005, when Crys­tal Ta­man was killed after her car was struck by a ve­hi­cle driven by off-duty cop Derek Har­vey-Zenk. The mis­han­dling of that case by East St. Paul po­lice, laid bare in a scathing pub­lic in­quiry, led to the cre­ation of the IIU.

“I think that would be a pru­dent course of ac­tion,” Smyth said Wednesday of get­ting de­tailed state­ments from any po­ten­tial wit­nesses. “I don’t know the de­tails of this of­fi­cer’s con­duct after he got off-duty. Peo­ple go out for drinks after work. That’s not an un­com­mon thing.

“I don’t know the de­tails, but I’m sure that will come out as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Cody Sev­eright, 23, was struck around 8 p.m. Tues­day, while walk­ing in the area of Main Street and Suther­land Av­enue near the Suther­land Ho­tel. Paramedics worked on him at the scene and rushed him to hos­pi­tal, where he was pro­nounced dead.

Don­nie Fizell said he wit­nessed the tragedy and told the Free Press it ap­peared the ve­hi­cle in­volved was speed­ing.

“I was com­ing down Jarvis (Av­enue) and turn­ing left on Main Street, head­ing south to the Suther­land Ho­tel, and I seen the car hit and he just flew,” Fizell said, re­fer­ring to the vic­tim. “He flew right over the hood of the front of car and landed on his head. He must have gone up in the air a good 15 feet.”

Fizell said the car “was going be­yond the speed limit. He was out of con­trol.” Nei­ther did the car stop or slow down after mak­ing im­pact with the young man, he said.

Fizell said the vic­tim had been cross­ing Main right in front of the Suther­land Ho­tel. “He was jay­walk­ing, he was walk­ing pretty fast. Per­haps (the driver) didn’t see him be­cause he had dark clothes on.”

Holz was ar­rested in the area of Main Street and Red River Boule­vard around 8:30 p.m. A source told the

Free Press he turned him­self in with a phone call.

Smyth said Holz did agree to a breath­a­lyzer fol­low­ing his ar­rest, but Smyth couldn’t speak to the read­ings.

It’s worth not­ing Holz is not cur­rently charged with driv­ing with a blood-al­co­hol level above .08, which typ­i­cally oc­curs in cases where po­lice get read­ings. The im­paired charge that’s been laid doesn’t re­quire a read­ing to be proven in court.

“There were breath tests ad­min­is­tered. The charge that re­sulted was im­paired driv­ing cause death,” said Smyth, adding the IIU “se­lects the charges.”

Smyth said ad­di­tional charges could be laid or up­graded as the IIU in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues. He de­fended the po­lice de­ci­sion not to de­tain Holz in cus­tody, say­ing “it’s not un­usual for some­one charged with this kind of of­fence to be re­leased with a prom­ise to ap­pear.”

There are nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples where cit­i­zens charged in this type of case are held be­hind bars and ei­ther the Crown agrees to bail, or a con­tested hear­ing is held. How­ever, those of­ten in­volve peo­ple with pre­vi­ous crim­i­nal records.

Mean­while, the IIU is also in­ves­ti­gat­ing an­other in­ci­dent in which an­other off-duty Win­nipeg po­lice of­fi­cer driv­ing his own ve­hi­cle on Portage Av­enue near Lang­side Street struck a 46-year-old pedes­trian at about 9:20 a.m. Tues­day.

The vic­tim was taken to Health Sci­ences Cen­tre with se­ri­ous in­juries and is listed in un­sta­ble con­di­tion. The IIU is man­dated to in­ves­ti­gate the col­li­sion due to the sever­ity of the in­juries.

“Of course, I’m con­cerned with both of them. But they’re very dif­fer­ent in­ci­dents. Traf­fic col­li­sions hap­pen ev­ery day. It doesn’t ap­pear any­thing un­to­ward hap­pened (in the first one),” Smyth said Wednesday.

The IIU is ask­ing wit­nesses and other in­di­vid­u­als who have in­for­ma­tion or video footage in ei­ther of the col­li­sions to con­tact the agency toll-free at 1-844-667-6060.

Sev­eright’s brother, David Hunter, was an­gered the of­fi­cer was re­leased from cus­tody.

“I think that’s bull­shit,” Hunter said. “I’m re­ally pissed off. He shouldn’t be out. Whether it’s his first charge or not. He killed some­one.

“What if he had stayed and helped him (the vic­tim) un­til the am­bu­lance came?”

One wit­ness said Sev­eright “flew 15 feet” from the im­pact of the car, which never stopped. “He (the driver) took off,” Don­nie Fizell added. “He fled. He nailed him (the vic­tim) and just kept going.”

Ac­cord­ing to sev­eral of Sev­eright’s friends, the young man, who was born and raised in Win­nipeg, was a fix­ture of the New West Ho­tel, just across the street from the Suther­land.

“He was my side­kick,” said Diane Hatch, who said she’s known Sev­eright for the past two years. “He was ev­ery­one’s side­kick. Ev­ery­one has their trou­bles, all of us. But he was a good kid. One of the best ones.

“He knew how to com­fort peo­ple when they were down. He could make you smile.”

Sev­eright was taken into Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices at age nine and had a “reg­u­lar teenage life,” said his un­cle, Paul Le­bold. He was raised by foster mother Karen Beaudin un­til the age of 21.

Beaudin said Sev­eright was a “bit of a joker” who was “very giv­ing.”

Sev­eright never grad­u­ated high school, but had at­tempted to get his adult ed­u­ca­tion in sub­se­quent years. In fact, Beaudin said Sev­eright was at her home for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner Mon­day, talk­ing about an­other at­tempt to get a high school diploma.

“He was try­ing,” Beaudin said. “He was mak­ing changes in his life. He was pretty happy. He had his is­sues, but he was try­ing to work through them.”

Sev­eright was not a stranger to tragedy. His mother, Ju­lia Hunter, died in 2012 at age 41. She was found dead in a stair­well. Al­though no charges were laid in con­nec­tion with Hunter’s death, she is listed among Man­i­toba’s miss­ing and mur­dered In­dige­nous women. So is her sis­ter, Jen­nifer, who died in the early 1990s, after be­ing found dead in a Win­nipeg ho­tel room.

Glo­ria Le­bold, the mother of Jen­nifer and Ju­lia and grand­mother of Cody, said the loss seems “never end­ing.”

“I don’t know how I’ve lived so far,” she said.

Les­lie Spil­lett, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Ka Ni Kanichihk, who per­formed the pipe cer­e­mony, said Sev­eright’s death “is just a tragedy — again — es­pe­cially for this fam­ily that’s lost so many.

“Some­times it’s hard to un­der­stand the tragedies com­mu­ni­ties live with,” Spil­lett added. “I don’t even know if it’s un­der­stand­able. It seems like fam­i­lies are for­ever griev­ing.”

Mean­while, Beaudin said she was still in shock, given that Sev­eright was only in her home eat­ing turkey and talk­ing op­ti­misti­cally about the fu­ture the day be­fore the ac­ci­dent. “You get that I-can’t-be­lieve-it feel­ing,” she said.

“It’s sad that it hap­pened in that way,” Beaudin added. “With a po­lice of­fi­cer, with al­co­hol in­volved. I try not to get too an­gry and upset about things. You hear a lot of ru­mours. I just hope jus­tice is done in the right way. Hope­fully, the courts will do what’s right.”

JOHN WOODS / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Po­lice in­ves­ti­gate a fa­tal crash on Main Street at Suther­land Av­enue Tues­day night. Cody Sev­eright (be­low) was killed and Const. Justin Holz has been charged in his death.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Glo­ria Le­bold is com­forted at a vigil Wednesday af­ter­noon for her grand­son, Cody Sev­eright, out­side the Suther­land Ho­tel where a hit-and-run killed the 23-year-old man.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

A shoe is seen amid po­lice ev­i­dence mark­ers at the scene of the fa­tal crash on Main Street Wednesday morn­ing.

Po­lice tape re­mains at the Main Street vigil.

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