At about 2am an officer signalled the driver of a Subaru (Mr X) to stop near the town centre of Palmerston North to check the driver's licence status and conduct a breath alcohol test. Mr X accelerated away, and the officer started to pursue. The officer could see several people in the Subaru, but was unaware that the occupants, including the driver, were young teenagers.
Mr X drove on the wrong side of the road with headlights off, forcing an oncoming car to take evasive action. The Subaru (now established as stolen) drove over road spikes laid by Police, causing the tires to degrade and the car to slow down. The pursuit ended when the officer used his Police car to push the Subaru into a wall.
Police said Mr X immediately got out of the car and charged at the officer with a screwdriver in his hand. The officer used pepper spray and manual force to secure and arrest Mr X.
Conversely, Mr X told his social worker that he immediately surrendered to Police, but officers kicked and punched him. The social worker raised concerns with Police, who notified the Authority.
The Authority found that Mr X's facial injuries were caused by reasonable force used to arrest him. The cause of bruising on Mr X's back was unknown, but the Authority was satisfied that Police did not kick or punch Mr X.
However, the Authority found there were several points during the pursuit when Mr X's driving created unjustifiable risks and the pursuit should have been abandoned. Some officers attempted to use tactics to stop the Subaru that they had not been trained in, and ultimately created risks that were not justified by the circumstances.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty, said: "When an officer decides to commence a pursuit, he or she also commits to conducting an ongoing, robust assessment of the risks created by fleeing driver and the overall pursuit scenario.
There were clear early signs that this driver was prepared to put himself and others at risk in order to avoid Police. Weighing all factors, it was safer for Police disengage. Certainly, the pursuit should not have reached the point where officers were contemplating stopping the Subaru using a blocking manoeuvre or force."
Allegation of assault following a pursuit (PDF 476 KB)