9OYS Investigates: What are law enforcement policies for use of stop sticks?
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Among the latest, major findings in the nearly 200-page accident report by DPS on the fatal Interstate 10 crash on Veteran's Day: Both the fleeing suspect and the innocent driver swerved to avoid stop sticks in the roadway just before colliding.
DPS pulled over 25-year-old Joel Morando for a minor traffic violation and later suspected he had marijuana in his car trunk, before he fled on I-10. Interviews with officers in the report confirmed that DPS officers chased Morando in a 36-mile eastbound pursuit with speeds reaching 110 miles per hour.
According to the report, DPS officers threw out three sets of stop sticks in different areas, with the third set causing Morando's Pontiac to slam into the white pick-up truck belonging to 31-year-old Ronald Pananikolas from Utah. The officer leading the pursuit said not only was Morando trying to avoid the stop sticks, but Papanikolas was also trying to maneuver around the tire-deflation devices.
"He saw a white pickup truck in the number two eastbound traffic lane swerve to the right, to avoid the stop sticks, and enter the number three lane, into the path of the Pontiac," the report stated. "He said he saw brake lights from the Pontiac. However, he said, it was too late and the collision occurred."
The report noted that Papanikolas was not wearing a seatbelt when he died at the scene. Furthermore, the report noted that the second set of stop sticks were rendered ineffective in stopping the pursuit because a tractor trailer had driven over them.
9OYS decided to look at different law enforcement policies regarding the usage of stop sticks in high-speed chases.
DPS's pursuit policy states a tire-deflation device can be used with roadblock or channelization "when pursuing a vehicle which is actively avoiding apprehension and deadly physical force is not justified."
Tucson Police's policy states that only officers who have specifically trained in the use of road spikes can deploy them, with the permission of the pursuit supervisor. Furthermore, spike systems can be used in "non-pursuit situations with supervisory approval by trained personnel trying to prevent a vehicle from fleeing." The Pima County Sheriff's Department also requires authorization for the use of stop sticks, according to spokesman Jason Ogan.
Rich Ronald, spokesman for the International Union for Police Associations, told KGUN9 News that various considerations come into play in the decision to use stop sticks including the weather, time of day, number of lanes, and pattern and volume of traffic. Ronald said he considers stop sticks and spike strips a use of force that should be wielded with the utmost care and training, but believes their advantages outweighs their risks.
"If a high-speed chase occurs, both the public and the officers in pursuit are at risk," Roberts said. "Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in the world. You have to play the odds and you have to do it as intelligently as possible."
Stop sticks aren't just dangerous to those driving. Officers who deploy the stop sticks are also at risk. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, at least two officers died last year trying to stop high-speed chases with tire-deflation devices.