The independent police watchdog has found that a senior officer imported a banned drug knowing it would improve his performance as an endurance athlete.
But Inspector Brendon Keenan of Rotorua has kept his job, his bosses satisfied with his explanation that he imported erythropoietin (EPO) – a substance linked to drug cheats such as cyclist Lance Armstrong – to treat a medical condition.
Medsafe investigated Keenan’s online purchase of EPO after a parcel from a website trading as DRS Labs was intercepted by Customs in September 2017.
After Medsafe referred its investigation to Drug Free Sport, Keenan, a top masters endurance runner, admitted importing the substance and was banned from athletics for four years.
The incident was referred to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, which oversaw an employment investigation in the Rotorua district.
That investigation found Keenan had breached the police Code of Conduct by importing EPO and because he had used his police email account to place the order for the drug.
“The investigation found that the officer intended to use EPO to treat a legitimate medical condition and police accepted he had no intention to cheat at sport,” a summary of the IPCA review of the case says.
But the IPCA disagreed with that finding.
“The authority determined the officer attempted to import EPO with the intention of improving his blood oxygen levels, in the knowledge that this was a banned substance and would improve his performance as an endurance athlete,” the summary says.
It also disagreed with a police finding that Keenan’s use of police email to communicate with a Medsafe investigator and with the organiser of a non-competitive endurance race was acceptable, saying it was a breach of policy.
Keenan did not respond to requests for comment.
Police said they could not comment on an employment matter, other than to confirm Keenan remained an employee after the internal investigation.
IPCA general manager Warren Young said the authority came to its differing opinion after reviewing police interviews and statements and their analysis of the case. “We communicated our view and findings to the police.”
However, the authority had not made any recommendations and had no power to direct further action.
“If an employment outcome has already been determined by the police … it’s not possible for the police to re-open that under employment law without having an abuse of process argument,” Young said.
The police finding that Keenan did not intend to cheat is also contrary to a joint memorandum he signed with Drug Free Sport, agreeing that he had breached sports anti-doping rules by engaging in conduct “which he or she knew constituted an anti-doping rule violation or knew that there was a significant risk that the conduct might constitute or result in an anti-doping rule violation and manifestly disregarded that risk”.
Keenan had initially claimed he wanted the EPO to treat a blood condition, but Drug Free Sport experts pointed out that EPO was a “well-known performance enhancing doping agent used by endurance athletes, a person using the internet to research EPO would immediately see its banned status and EPO would not be a treatment for Mr Keenan’s blood disorder”.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Keenan took advice, reflected on his position and accepted his conduct was in breach of anti-doping rules.
At the time of the offending, Keenan was the professional conduct manager for the Bay of Plenty, in charge of investigating complaints against police in his district.
He has since been moved into crime prevention.
Keenan was stripped of the medals he won at the masters track and field championships in 2017, when he was third in the 1500m, second in both the 3000m and 5000m in the over-40 category.
Once a high-profile advocate of barefooted running, Keenan was third in his age group at the Wellington Marathon in June, 2017.
EPO is a naturally occurring peptide hormone which results in increased red blood cell production. It is produced synthetically for medicinal purposes.