Non Raceday Inquiry – Written Decision dated 27 June 2022 – Darren Eriha
Penalty: Darren Eriha is disqualified for 12 months (Charge 1) and suspended for 6 weeks (Charge 2) and will be served concurrently
1. Mr Eriha faces two matters, these are as follows:
On 23 March 2022 at Levin Racecourse, having been required by a Racing Investigator to supply his urine in accordance with Rule 656(3) of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Rules of Racing, he provided urine, which upon analysis was found to contain the controlled drug Methamphetamine, being a Class A controlled drug as defined in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, and subject to the penalty imposed pursuant to Rule 803.
On 23 March 2022 at Levin Racecourse, having been required by a Racing Investigator to supply his urine in accordance with Rule 656(3) of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Rules of Racing, he provided urine, which upon analysis was found to contain the controlled drug Cannabis (THC), being a Class C controlled drug as defined in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, and subject to the penalty imposed pursuant to Rule 803.
2. At a telephone conference convened on 14 April 2022, Mr Eriha confirmed he understood the nature of the charges, and admitted each of the charges arising under the Informations. The matter was set down for a penalty hearing.
3. Mr Eriha was unable to attend the hearing at Awapuni Racecourse in person as a result of home detention restrictions, and waiver not being provided by Probation Services in time to enable his attendance.
4. Mr Eriha confirmed that he wished the hearing to proceed, and he would join via telephone, and the hearing proceeded on that basis.
5. Mr Irving has filed submissions in relation to penalty. Those submissions were filed in advance of the hearing and also provided to Mr Eriha.
6. At the hearing the Summary of Facts was read again for Mr Eriha’s benefit, and the relevant facts can be summarised as follows:
a. Mr Eriha has previously held a Trackwork Licence issued by NZTR. Mr Eriha has not applied to renew his previously held trackwork licence for the new season commencing on 1 August 2022.
b. Mr Eriha was last listed as a freelancer, relying on the ability to work/ride for multi parties.
c. On Wednesday 23 March 2022 Investigators from the Racing Integrity Board conducted routine investigations at Levin Racecourse. Upon arrival on the racecourse, Investigators observed Mr Eriha in the new tie-ups area with a group of horses. Also present with the horses were brothers Chris and Steven Rauhihi.
d. Mr Eriha was observed handling the horses and was one of eight people selected for testing who were performing a safety sensitive activity that day. Mr Eriha was served with a drug testing notification form at 8:15am.
e. At 11:15am that day the drug detection agency van departed Levin Racecourse with Mr Eriha having not presented. Mr Eriha subsequently presented to testing following the van’s departure. The testing official, Mr Patrick Quinn, agreed to return to the course to undertake testing.
f. When questioned regarding his employment, Mr Eriha admitted to being employed by Mr Rauhihi and having track ridden for him earlier that morning.
g. At 11:52am Mr Quinn, in association with Mr Eriha, completed the appropriate documentation, with Mr Eriha consenting to undertake drug testing.
h. At 11:55am testing was undertaken with the initial samples screening positive to Methamphetamine/Amphetamine and cannabinoids (THC) in his urine.
i. Mr Eriha consented for the sample to be packaged and sent to the ESR laboratory for further analysis.
j. When questioned as to the positive results for the controlled drugs, Mr Eriha admitted to consuming both Methamphetamine and Cannabis at a mate’s place within the last 72 hours.
k. On 29 March 2022, the ESR provided RIB with a urine drug test report, which confirmed the presence of both Methamphetamine/Amphetamine and THC acid (cannabinoids) in his sample.
7. Mr Eriha is 56 years of age. Enquiries with NZ Police confirmed that Mr Eriha has an extensive criminal history, which would disqualify him as a Category 1 person and prohibit him from obtaining licence status from NZTR.
SUBMISSIONS AS TO PENALTY
8. Mr Irving seeks a period of 12 month’s disqualification on the Methamphetamine charge and a six-week suspension on the Cannabis charge.
9. Mr Irving highlighted that NZTR has been drug testing Industry participants since 1995, and since that time there has been a growing awareness that there is an absolute obligation on those riding horses to present themselves free of any influence of any drugs.
10. It is highlighted by Mr Irving that all riders are aware of the Policy and the consequences should they not comply. The testing is conducted to ensure a healthy and safe workplace and to maintain the integrity of the industry.
11. Mr Irving further draws the Adjudicative Committee’s attention to the cases of RIU v Harris (June 2021) where an 11-month disqualification period was imposed on a Trackwork Rider who tested positive for Methamphetamine, with a further provision for suspension or discount of three months subject to the completion of a drug rehabilitation course.
12. In the case of RIU v Donoghue (November 2019) a Trackwork Rider tested positive for Methamphetamine and a 12-month disqualification was imposed, again with three-month suspension for a drug rehabilitation programme.
13. Lastly, we are referred to the case of RIU v Jansen (August 2017) where a Trackwork Rider tested positive for both Methamphetamine and Cannabis. A ten-month disqualification was imposed on the Methamphetamine charge and a six-week suspension on the Cannabis charge.
14. Mr Irving acknowledged that Mr Eriha had admitted the charges shortly after the Informations were served. In addition, it also acknowledged that Mr Eriha recorded a THC level of 26mcg/l which is considered very low, with a range ordinarily between 500 and greater than 300.
MR ERIHA’S SUBMISSIONS
15. Mr Eriha spoke to the Tribunal at some length and outlined his history working for stables for 20 years on and off, having been registered for about 13 years, and at one stage or another, working for the majority of the horse trainers in the local area.
16. The Adjudicative Committee considered the submissions of both parties and accepts a starting point of a 12-month disqualification is appropriate in the circumstances.
17. It was queried in the course of the hearing as to whether a six-week suspension on the Cannabis charge could be imposed if a disqualification was in place.
18. Rule 803(1) provides that:
A person who, or body, or other entity which, commits, or is deemed to have committed a breach of these rules, or any of them for which a penalty is not provided elsewhere in these rules shall be liable to
a. Be disqualified for a period not exceeding 12 months; and/or
b. Be suspended from holding or obtaining a licence for a period not exceeding 12 months. If a licence is renewed during a term of suspension, then the suspension shall continue to apply to the new licence; and or
c. A fine not exceeding $20,000 (emphasis added)
19. Having read the Rule, we are comfortable that it allows contemporaneous penalties of disqualification and suspension to be imposed.
20. When a Licensed Person rides while having Methamphetamine or Amphetamine in their system, they pose a serious health and safety risk for others. The same is the case for Cannabis. On this occasion, the Respondent has returned a positive to a spectrum of Class A and C controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Drug related offences also go to the heart of the integrity of the Racing Industry, and in particular Class A drug offences have attracted significant penalties to act as a deterrent.
21. Licenced Holders must therefore understand that Methamphetamine or Amphetamine offences will attract a high penalty sanction, and the cases the RIB have referred to reflect that guidance.
22. In mitigation we acknowledge is Mr Eriha’s early admission of the breach, his cooperation and acknowledgement of his wrongdoing, and that he has shown both remorse for his actions and also expressed a preparedness to engage in drug and alcohol counselling in order to improve his wellbeing.
23. In relation to Information A17953, the Adjudicative Committee has considered all the information put before it and reached the conclusion that this offence is appropriately dealt with by way of disqualification, and a disqualification period of 12 months is imposed.
24. Upon confirmation of the completion of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation course from an accredited provider, three months of this period will be suspended.
25. In relation to Information A17954, a suspension of six weeks is imposed and will be served concurrently.
26. The date of disqualification shall commence on 31 March 2022.
27. No order for costs was sought by the RIB.
28. No costs are imposed by the Adjudicative Committee.
DATED this 14th day of June 2022
Decision Date: 14/06/2022
Publish Date: 27/06/2022