ROCKPORT, Maine — The police officer involved in a high-speed pursuit on Dec. 5, 2015, that ended with a car crash in Union that killed two teens has been taken off patrol duties, the town manager confirmed Friday.
Officer Craig Cooley has been assigned to administrative only duties since the end of last month, according to Town Manager Rick Bates.
In the past 20 years, Cooley has split his time between being the administrative assistant to the chief and as a patrol officer with the Rockport Police Department.
Bates said officials had not determined how long Cooley would remain on administrative duty.
Cooley has not responded to an email seeking comment.
The administrative action was taken at about the same time that the town’s attorney, Melissa Hewey of Drummond Woodsum, hired the consulting firm of Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, New Hampshire, to review the Police Department’s policies and make recommendations as a result of those findings.
The town manager said earlier this month that this outside review was the result of the chase and crash in December and the questions raised about whether Cooley adhered to the pursuit policy.
Cooley pursued a car driven by 17-year-old Caleb Byras of Litchfield after the teen failed to stop when the officer tried to pull him over for speeding on Route 17 in Rockport. The chase lasted about four minutes before the 2001 Subaru Outback driven by Byras crashed into a tree and split into two pieces on Wotton’s Mill Road. Byras and a passenger, 16-year-old Kara Brewer of Rockland, died at the scene. Another passenger, Emily Vitale, 17, of Warren, survived with injuries to one of her ankles.
Cooley had issued a ticket to Byras about an hour earlier for driving 74 mph in a 55-mph zone on the same road.
Benjamin Gideon, an attorney for Brewer’s mother, said earlier this month he intends to sue the officer and the town for negligence. He has 180 days from the date of the crash to submit a formal notice of intent to sue.
He accused the officer of being negligent and violating the town’s policy and accepted police practices by engaging in the high-speed chase.
Rockport Police Chief Mark Kelley defended Cooley, however, and said Cooley acted appropriately when he pursued the speeding teen driver.
Gideon said Cooley’s pursuit of Byras violated Rockport’s policy on police pursuits, which was adopted in September 2013 and is the same as the model recommended for all police departments in the state by the board of trustees of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
The policy states that only full-time law enforcement officers may participate in a high-speed pursuit. Cooley is not certified as a full-time officer but as a part-time officer, according to John Rogers, director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
The police policy also states that a law enforcement officer “shall not engage in high-speed pursuit if the operator is known” to the officer unless there is “a serious indication of further violent actions if not immediately apprehended.”
Further, the policy states that an officer “shall not pursue vehicles for Class D and E crimes or traffic violations, unless the conditions surrounding the pursuit are conducive to safe operation, management and due regard for the safety of the officer, the public, and the person or persons in the vehicle being pursued.”
There is no timetable for the outside consultant’s review of the policy to be completed.