1 December 2016
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a Whakatane Police officer did not deliberately use pepper spray on a 10-year-old girl and her mother while they were seated in a car that had been stopped by Police. However, the officer’s use of spray in a confined space, in the circumstances, was careless.
At about 5.40pm on 11 September 2015, Police arrested a man driving a Toyota Hilux, who had failed to stop, on Paul Street, Whakatane. During the arrest, an officer sprayed the man with pepper spray. The mother of the child made a complaint to the Authority saying, among other things, that Police had deliberately sprayed the man, herself and their 10-year-old daughter, while they were seated in the Hilux.
When Police stopped the man, he refused to give his name or provide his driver licence and repeatedly raised Maori sovereignty issues. As the officer thought that the man was going to drive off, he put his arm through the partially open driver’s window to try and unlock the driver’s door to prevent the man from leaving. Another officer came to assist and Police say that the man trapped both officers’ arms in the car window. Force was used by the two Police officers and the man; however, the order of events and level of force used is disputed. One of the officers then used his pepper spray on the man and he was pulled out of the Hilux and handcuffed.
The Authority accepts that the 10-year-old girl was badly affected by the pepper spray, however has found that the officer did not deliberately spray the woman or her daughter.
Authority Chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers said; “There is no doubt that this was a dynamic situation. However, when spraying the man, the officer did not properly consider the necessity of using pepper spray in a confined space, the likelihood that it would affect the other innocent passengers or the fact that he was using a more powerful spray.”
Although the Authority was ready to release its report in September 2016, ongoing court proceedings relating to this incident prevented it from doing so.