The actions of four Police officers who used force against Rawiri Falwasser at Whakatane Police station were unnecessary, unreasonable, and unjustified, concludes a report released today by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.
The IPCA has also found that the Police investigation into the incident on 23 October 2006 was professional and thorough, and that Police did everything in their power to ensure the officers concerned were held accountable for their actions.
Rawiri Falwasser had been arrested in Edgecumbe and charged with unlawfully taking a motor vehicle. He was taken to Whakatane Police station and placed in a holding cell, but refused to provide fingerprints or sign a form affirming he had been told of his rights under the Bill of Rights Act.
Sergeants Keith Parsons and Erle Busby, Constable John Mills, Senior Constable Bruce Laing, and two other officers attempted to move Mr Falwasser to another cell.
Mr Falwasser was struck several times with Police batons, repeatedly pepper-sprayed, and the officers also armed themselves with riot shields. Mr Falwasser received a 6cm cut to his head, and later stated that he could hardly breathe as a consequence of being peppersprayed. His vision was blurred, and he felt as if his face was burning. For several weeks after the incident, he suffered from headaches and dizziness.
The Authority Chair, Justice Lowell Goddard, said the investigation found the use of force was unjustified, and the type of force was unnecessary and unreasonable.
“There was no urgent need to move Mr Falwasser. He should have been left in the holding cell till he had calmed down and agreed to provide fingerprints. The use of an escalating and inordinate amount of pepper spray simply exacerbated the situation,” said Justice Goddard.
The IPCA has reached the following conclusions, in accordance with s.27 of the Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988:
• the conduct of the Police officers who dealt with Mr Falwasser on 23 October 2006 and who were subsequently charged, was unnecessary, unreasonable, and unjustified;
• the Authority concurs with the findings of the Police Disciplinary Tribunal that the actions amounted to misconduct in respect of the officer who elected to be dealt with under that option;
• the subsequent Police investigation was professional and thorough and independent advice was properly obtained from the Crown Solicitor;
• the Police decision to lay criminal and disciplinary charges against the officers was justified and appropriate;
• the submission of Counsel for the Attorney General in the civil action brought by Mr Falwasser that “the New Zealand Police had done everything within its power to investigate, acknowledge, condemn and ensure accountability for those officers involved in the use of excessive force against Mr Falwasser” is endorsed.
Justice Goddard also acknowledged the length of time Rawiri Falwasser has waited for the outcome of the IPCA investigation.
On 20 December 2006, Police advised the Authority that charges were being laid against Sergeants Parsons and Busby, and against Constable Mills and Senior Constable Laing. The Authority suspended active investigations while the case was before the Courts and subsequently resumed its investigations following the officers’ acquittals.
The IPCA has also taken note of subsequent disciplinary charges and civil action.
“The Falwasser case has taken some time to bring to conclusion, and the Authority’s findings released today are the end of a long process for Mr Falwasser and his family,” Justice Goddard said.