A senior police officer drove "grossly" drunk from a police bar, nearly collided with other cars, mounted footpaths and had to swerve to avoid hitting a pedestrian-crossing pole while heading home.
Detective Sergeant John Gualter, an instructor at the Royal New Zealand Police College in Porirua, has pleaded guilty to drink-driving and dangerous driving. He will be sentenced in Porirua District Court on Friday.
The Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) has criticised his actions and those of the bar that allowed him to reach more than 2½ times the legal limit.
The incident has also forced a review of the police college's alcohol policy. Its bar no longer serves alcohol from jugs, duty officers keep a watch on patrons' behaviour, and drinking games and heavy drinking sessions are no longer tolerated.
Alac chief executive Gerard Vaughan said licensed premises that served drunk patrons were breaking the law and Alac would expect police to enforce the provisions of the Sale of Liquor Act.
The police college bar is licensed and is required to follow liquor laws, unlike bars at police stations which are exempt from the act, but voluntarily follow Alac guidelines.
Gualter was stopped by police near his home in Linden, north Wellington, after 10pm on November 14. His breath-alcohol reading of 1039 micrograms was more than 2½ times the legal limit of 400mcg.
The charges each carry a maximum penalty of three months in prison, a maximum fine of $4500 and disqualification from driving for a minimum of six months.
Gualter was initially stood down on full pay but reinstated at the college on restricted duties in December. After sentencing, he will face an internal police employment investigation.
The Dominion Post was granted access to the police statement of facts, which described the incident.
Members of the public saw Gualter join State Highway 1 north of Porirua and weave back and forth across all three lanes. They rang police and followed him as he drove into Porirua and on to Linden.
During the journey, his car was seen straddling lanes, swerving to miss a pedestrian-crossing pole and a power pole, mounting footpaths, driving "completely on the incorrect side of a road" and narrowly missing moving cars.
"When he got out of his vehicle he was so grossly intoxicated that he was unsteady on his feet, his eyes were glazed and bloodshot, and his speech was slurred, and he had to lean on the vehicle to support himself," the police summary said.
Gualter did not explain his actions to police at the time and did not return calls last week, but earlier this year told The Dominion Post it had been a worrying time.
"As a police officer, we're all human beings and we make mistakes but obviously because we do a different job, we're subject to different rules. Sometimes we aren't afforded the flexibility that every other person is afforded."
Mr Vaughan said the incident was disappointing, as alcohol abuse was a factor in much of the police's work. "We work closely with police in a number of areas in trying to reduce alcohol-related harm and there are a lot of police incredibly dedicated to this work. I'm sure they will also be disappointed that a member of their organisation failed to meet the standards they expect."
Police headquarters spokesman Jon Neilson said in a statement that the college had amended its alcohol policy to "better reflect ... concepts of host responsibility and prevention of intoxication".
Convictions for police officers rank as "serious misconduct" in the police code of conduct and can result in instant dismissal.
"All police understand that the public expects high standards of conduct from them at all times," Mr Neilson said.
Police national training manager Mike Wilson said there had been no trouble at the college bar for "many months" and the police college had a responsibility to make an extra effort to be the model of "what's important for the organisation".
"We're just New Zealanders like everybody else, just the same sorts of things will happen in our environment. Having said that, I actually think the standard is really really quite high."
STATEMENT OF FACTS
At about 10pm on the 14th November, 2008, the defendant Gualter was driving his Toyota motor vehicle, registration SAX4ME, when he was observed by members of the public to turn onto the motorway from Whitford Brown Avenue, Porirua.
Initially he was in the left of the three south-bound lanes, but began to veer across into the middle lane, which was the lane the complainants were in. At this point they were about 30 metres behind him.
The defendant continued to travel south and was weaving across all three lanes of the motorway, from the shoulder of the road out to, and including, the lane next to the median strip. There was no indication of him changing lanes and the complainant got the impression that the changing of lanes wasn't deliberate, but was merely because he was so drunk. They reported the matter to police on *555.
They would have normally gone off at the ramp, but because of the defendant's driving, they decided to follow him, whilst keeping the police informed of his driving and location. When they got to the Mungavin Interchange the defendant went up the off ramp, weaving within this lane. When he got to the give way sign at the top, he drove straight out into the intersection without slowing. He then went to the right around the roundabout and was weaving back and forwards across both lanes, with no indication.
He carried on across the Mungavin Bridge into Porirua and was travelling down the middle centre line of the two lanes. When he got to the other side, near the BP service station he actually increased his speed to take the left-hand bend into Kenepuru Drive.
As the defendant approached the pedestrian crossing outside the Mobil service station, he headed straight for the black and white pedestrian pole on the footpath on his left, but suddenly swerved away to the right. He then swerved back to his left, mounted the footpath, then dismounted the footpath and headed off along Kenepuru Drive towards Tawa.
When he reached the area of the soccer club, he was actually driving completely on the incorrect side of the road, travelling south in the north-bound lane. Fortunately there was no other vehicle coming, but shortly after he regained the correct side of the road, an oncoming vehicle passed. Visibility is poor in this area with limited street lighting.
As he reached the Rahia Street intersection he began to head straight towards a power pole on the left-hand side of the road. At the last moment, he swerved to the right, then swerved left before mounting the kerb, then dismounted again before heading south. When he got to Gee Street, he indicated and turned left into the street. At this point the complainant decided to continue on south and turn left into Linden Avenue, because we didn't want him to realise that we were following him, and the police had not yet arrived.
When the defendant suddenly reappeared at speed from Findlay Street into Linden Avenue, two police cars intercepted him. Despite signalling him to stop with their flashing red and blue lights the defendant continued on. The defendant was swerving across the centre line and had a narrow miss with a mobile vehicle in the same lane. Eventually they got him to stop in Collins Avenue, Linden.
When he got out of his vehicle he was so grossly intoxicated that he was unsteady on his feet, his eyes were glazed and bloodshot and his speech was slurred and he had to lean on the vehicle to support himself. He was clearly in no condition to be driving a vehicle.
The correct breath-testing procedures were carried out and a subsequent Evidential Breath Test gave a reading of 1039 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath. The defendant made no comment about his actions. He is a 41-year-old male who is currently employed as a Police officer and has not previously appeared before the court.
I find it surprising that cops are allowed to keep their jobs after incidents like this.