At approximately 12.40am, a female driver, her male partner (the front seat passenger) and two other female passengers were driving past two officers on Mungavin Avenue in Porirua when one of the passengers yelled an obscenity at Police. One of the officers (a Police dog handler) followed the car in his Police dog van and stopped it on a nearby petrol station forecourt, intending to check the sobriety of the driver.
As the officer walked towards the driver's window, the front seat passenger exited the vehicle and began to walk towards the petrol station shop to buy cigarettes. The officer repeatedly told the man to get back into the car, as he felt the man posed a threat. The man ignored his instructions and side-stepped the officer, pushing away the officer's outstretched arm.
A confrontation occurred between the two during which the officer pepper sprayed the man. The officer stated that he acted to defend himself from being head butted by the man. The man denied attempting to head butt the officer.
The officer arrested the man for obstructing Police and radioed for urgent assistance. The man became agitated and ran to the other side of the forecourt. The officer ran to get his Police dog. Meanwhile, six officers responded to the radio call and arrived over a period of minutes.
Two of the responding officers attempted to restrain the man, who resisted violently. The remaining officers prevented his distressed partner and friends from approaching the scuffle. Finally, the Police dog was used to pull the man off one of the officers (as the officer was at risk of injury). The man received a six centimetre laceration from the resulting dog bite.
The Authority found that the officer had no lawful power to stop the man from exiting the car and walking to the shop. Consequently, the man was entitled to ignore the officer's instructions and his arrest for obstructing Police was unlawful.
The Authority did not accept that the officer believed that the man posed an imminent physical threat to him. Therefore the use of pepper spray was unjustified. However, the Authority found that the subsequent use of force was lawful, due to the man's violent reaction when responding officers attempted to secure him.
"This incident was in the most part not only unnecessary but unlawful. The actions of a Police officer in attempting to prevent a man going about his lawful business promoted a violent confrontation. The Police officer acted contrary to law and did not demonstrate good judgement during this incident" said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.