The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that force used by a Police officer during the arrest of a 13-year-old boy was justified (though the officer could have taken more care to avoid injuries the boy sustained) until the point that the officer punched the boy in the ribs during handcuffing.
At about 11.14pm on Saturday 19 May 2018, the boy was the front seat passenger of a stolen vehicle which had been involved in a prolonged pursuit across Auckland. The fleeing vehicle, containing seven young people, was spiked and came to a stop on State Highway 1 near the Johnstone Hill Tunnels, 46km north of Auckland city.
The boy alleged that he was dragged from the car and punched and kicked by Police during his arrest.
The fleeing vehicle had stopped very close to the motorway barrier and as the officer pulled the boy from the car, the boy's head hit the barrier, causing cuts and bruising. The officer took the boy to the ground and punched the boy two or three times in the ribs before handcuffing him. The officer said the boy would not release his hands from under his body, so he used mid-strength punches to get him to release them.
The Authority found the officer could have used more care in removing the boy from the vehicle, but the injuries to the boy's head were not intentional. The Authority is satisfied that the boy was not punched in the head or kicked while he was on the ground. The Authority did not accept the officer's explanation that it was necessary to punch the boy in the ribs while handcuffing him and found that force was unjustified.
"The Authority found that the officer who had removed the boy from the front passenger seat of the stolen vehicle had been unable to see inside because it had tinted windows, there was no street lighting, and Police lights were "backlighting" it. He was therefore unaware that he was dealing with a child, and the level of force he used to pull the boy from the vehicle was intended for a larger and heavier person. This resulted in a degree of momentum that caused the boy to hit the nearby motorway barrier and suffer cuts and bruising to his face" said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
The boy was arrested for being in a stolen vehicle and for breaching a bail condition relating to a previous incident. He was held in Police custody overnight, where he was seen by a doctor at 11.50am on 20 May 2018 before being released to the care of Oranga Tamariki early that afternoon. The following day, he and his mother went to a Police station to complain about the force used.
The Authority found Police were justified in arresting the boy and detaining him in custody until he could be released into the custody of Oranga Tamariki. Police did, however, fail to arrange for him to receive immediate medical attention for his injury. He had told staff that he did not need attention; however, given his age and the nature of his injury, Police should have arranged this anyway, and neglected their duty of care in failing to do so