The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Cops, courts and fires

January 15, 2010

Experts: APD officer was within norms

Dawson had no cause to search detainment

ANDERSON — The Anderson police officer who let a man drive away without checking his driving record Tuesday just before the man struck a school bus made a valid decision, according to national and state experts.

“There are extenuating circumstances in this case; I would say the officer was right,” said Andy Mournighan, the director of governmental affairs at the National Association of Police Organizations.

Officer Mark Dawson, a seasoned Anderson officer, responded to a call that a man was passed out in a car at 22nd and Locust streets at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. After paramedics and the officer assessed Shane T. Owens, 28, Dawson released him. Minutes later, Owens drove head-on into a school bus.

Later, officers learned that Owens’ driver’s license had been suspended, he had a warrant in Henry County and marijuana in the vehicle.

Anderson Police Department has not responded to questions about how long the officer was on the scene and details about any field tests performed.

However, experts say Dawson acted within officer discretionary procedures that allow officers to factor in what they see and hear at a scene, and determine whether further investigation is needed. It’s the same protocol that allows officers to give warnings during traffic stops.

“In terms of releasing him, I don’t think there’s much question that he had to,” said Steve Johnson, of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Counsel. “Whether he would ask for a license, it’s up to the officer.”

Johnson also said the presence of paramedics when the officer arrived adds more reason to why he wouldn’t have suspected substance use.

“I think most officers would rely on the paramedics,” he said.

Toxicology tests are pending, according to an Anderson Police Department accident report.

Dave Cravens, deputy chief for the Anderson Fire Department, said Thursday that the paramedics arrived before police. They checked Owens’ vitals, pupils and skin, and all were clear, he said.

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