A coroner has criticised NSW Police after a pursuit led to the death of a toddler in her own backyard.
Tateolena Tauaifaga was 17 months old when she was struck down while playing with her three sisters in Sydney’s west. The car, driven by Christopher Chandler, careened through the fence following a police pursuit.
Chandler went to jail for manslaughter, however the coroner also probed into police actions.
Police followed cars into backyard, coroner says
Tateolena lay motionless on the ground when two police cars followed Chandler through the backyard. The cars then proceeded into a park where more children were playing.
Deputy State Coroner Elizabeth Ryan was critical of the officers’ decision to follow Chandler into the backyard. She described it as an “appalling risk”.
“It is terrible to think of the danger to which these other little lives were exposed by this decision,” Ryan said when handing down her findings into the girl’s death on Wednesday.
“Her distraught mother and father could do little but watch as … paramedics tried to save her.”
Tateolena died of blunt head injuries. She suffered extensive skull fractures and abrasions to the right side of her face and body.
Missed opportunity to arrest perp earlier
The Inquest heard that police had an opportunity to detain Chandler earlier in the day. He parked the stolen car he was driving and left it, giving police the opportunity to make the arrest.
Instead, police fitted the car with a tracking device in the hope of obtaining more information about other crimes.
Ryan found officers had not given appropriate consideration to the risk they were running in delaying his arrest.
“Had Mr Chandler been arrested earlier … he could not have committed the terrible offence,” she said.
“This knowledge remains a great source of pain for Tateolena’s [family].”
Force to review Police car chase policies
NSW Police said they would review the policies and training that contributed to the decisions made that day. Ryan said the policies that apply to tactical operations unit officers in such circumstances are unclear and inconsistent.
Ryan made a series of recommendations for improvements to police training and policies. This included investigating ways that tactical operations unit vehicles could be fitted with audiovisual recording devices.
In a statement, a NSW police spokesperson said a comprehensive review of the findings was under way and all recommendations would be considered.