This week, Officer Sean Pearce from Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, son of infamous former state senator Russell Pearce, was recently found to be operating his police vehicle safely, reasonably and prudently in the eyes of the Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery when he hit and killed John Edward Harding.
I understand an officer’s job is dangerous, probably scary at some moments, and that they might not always be assessing risk the same way that you and I do. That said, I believe that Officer Pearce should be charged with a crime to bring justice to the family that lost their husband and father without any due cause.
On December 16, 2013, Pearce was operating an unmarked (and rented) Chevy Tahoe for law enforcement purposes. By unmarked, it also was not retrofitted with strobes, LEDs or sirens. He was catching up to an alleged murder suspect that was a passenger in a taxi and was not in pursuit.
En route to meeting up with additional officers already closing in the taxi transporting the suspect in question, Pearce decided to go full throttle and take his three-ton Tahoe up to 81 MPH on a 40 MPH mixed-use residential street. Once operating at double the speed limit, he collided with an innocent bystander, John Edward Harding, who was making a left turn. Following the collision, the Harding died and the Tahoe and the victim’s Cube were totaled.
The incident was recorded on video. While watching the video, put yourself into the shoes of victim who is turning left – a common activity you probably do every day.
View the crash report, here.
Even if an officer had flashing lights and sirens, this behavior would be very risky at best. Pearce, again, was not found of any wrongdoing in light of this deadly incident. At this very moment, taxpayers are still paying him to be a full-time police officer for Maricopa County Sheriff.
After watching the video “dozens” of times, County Attorney Montgomery said that there was nothing the prosecution review board determined nothing was wrong. I suppose when you know people in high places, prosecutor’s memories and cognitive functions begin to rapidly degrade.
After learning these details, I was livid. I have no relation to the victims, but I could feel for them. What if an MCSO officer took out one of my family members completely irresponsibly? Sure, I could seek civil recourse, but no criminal penalties charged for gross negligence of the law questions the integrity of our justice system and the very people who took an oath to preserve it.
While this might seem to be manslaughter or vehicular homicide, understand that the prosecutors make an assessment as to how likely it is they can achieve a conviction. If they believe they can prove beyond any reasonable doubt, then they move forward with charges. Since Officer Pearce operated as an agent of the State in an authorized capacity, his actions can be explained with lawful purposes or intent.
A loss of life and property occurred, so I’m sure all the following charges would be able to result in a conviction. It would not be hard to establish that he violated the law to a criminal degree.
It has occurred to me that the County Attorney’s office needs be informed of the laws that Officer Pearce violated. I’m sure there’s a whole other set of laws that apply to peace officers, but just looking at the most conservative set of laws that govern all people in Arizona, the Arizona Revised Statutes.
Here are three laws that Sean Pearce appears to have violated:
Reckless Driving – 28-693
(A) “A person who drives a vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”
Emergency Vehicles – 28-775
(F) “This section does not relieve the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.”
Reasonable & Prudent Speed – 28-701
(A) “A person shall not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, conditions and actual and potential hazards then existing. A person shall control the speed of a vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with any object, person, vehicle or other conveyance on, entering or adjacent to the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to exercise reasonable care for the protection of others.”
Supporters of Pearce have argued that this situation is an example of police officers receiving scrutiny about their jobs. That is the function of our established government and judicial system. Yes, officers need to think twice about their actions if they are acting in compliance of the law. This isn’t unreasonable.
If you mess up, own it. Apologize and commit to do better. His lack of public statements or acknowledgement of any wrongdoing gives you a general idea of his morals and ethics.
What Pearce and the MCSO doesn’t realize is the impact of their actions (or inaction). By allowing an officer to proceed on without any penalty, suspension, resignation, civil or criminal charge, they are encouraging other officers to engage in reckless behavior. This could mean engaging in more frequent high-speed pursuits with no regard to the risks posed against the public.
It also means more mistrust from the public. I know officers have a dangerous job to do and any moment they can earn the trust and respect from the public, the easier it is for them to carry out their duties. By demonstrating that police officers are immune to any legal and criminal responsibilities, it compels others to dislike police departments and their brass. This decision from the county attorney shows extreme bias on the officer’s part without considering the facts.
Officer Pearce, even with his 20 decorated years of service, should voluntarily resign. How could he wake up in the morning and put on his badge and utility belt knowing that he –and he alone – took someone else’s life? This wasn’t a freak accident, it was careless, irresponsible and should have consequences.
I predict that the victim’s family will seek a claim against MCSO and we, the taxpayers, will have to cough up our funds for a multimillion dollar settlement. And you know what, they should. It would teach the department to not look the other way when one of their own officers violates the law with such extreme disregard to human life. And it would enable taxpayers to think twice about the next election and vote out all the corrupt, paid-off incumbents and reform MCSO. Just a thought.
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