The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that an officer's use of force was unjustified and unreasonable when he kicked a man and aimed a pistol at his head following a pursuit in April 2018.
At 8am on Sunday 29 April, three men robbed a supermarket in Taupo with crowbars. Police pursued their car, successfully spiking the tyres. Officers attempted to keep the car in its lane as the driver lost control. They then tried to force the car off the road in order to protect other road users, which the Authority found to be justified.
When the car came to a stop, the first officer to arrive on the scene presented his firearm at the driver and pulled him from the car, while two other officers arrived and dealt with the passengers.
A witness alleged that the first officer lunged at the driver, as if to punch him, while he was handcuffed. The Authority found this most likely happened, on the balance of probabilities, and that there was no justifiable reason for doing this.
Witnesses also alleged that the officer kicked one of the passengers and held a pistol to his head as he lay face-down and handcuffed on the ground. The officer denied kicking the passenger, however, the Authority is satisfied this did happen, and finds it to be unjustified and unreasonable.
The officer said he initially thought the man was secured but had not confirmed this himself. When the man swore at him and rolled over slightly, he thought he posed a threat, so dived on top of him with his pistol still in his hand. His pistol was pointing towards the man's head and may have accidentally touched it. However, witnesses gave different accounts of the incident.
"The passenger was not in a position to effectively resist or escape Police custody, and did not show any intention to, based on what others observed. Although the officer has argued that he believed the passenger did pose a threat of resistance and escape, the Authority does not accept he actually believed this. Furthermore, even if that belief was genuine, it was not reasonable" said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
Police subsequently charged the officer with common assault and assault with a weapon. The officer was acquitted of both charges following a jury trial in February 2020.