The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that an officer was unjustified in using a Taser to defend herself against an aggressive detainee, because she could have used less forceful options to protect herself.
Mr X was arrested and taken to Police custody on 13 February 2019. He was drunk and aggressive. He was put in an observation cell with a clear Perspex front wall. A short time later, an officer saw on CCTV that Mr X was apparently trying to strangle himself with his clothing. She raised the alarm, and several officers ran to the cell to intervene.
Two officers entered the cell to restrain Mr X, who resisted and kicked out at one of them. The officer who raised the alarm stood in the cell doorway with her Taser drawn. As Mr X became calmer, the officers released their hold on him. However, he refused to put on a tear resistant gown to prevent any further suicide attempts.
Mr X focused his attention on the officer aiming the Taser at him, challenged her and started to move towards her. The officer fired the Taser and Mr X fell back onto the bed. He received medical care and appeared in Court the following morning.
The Authority accepted that the officer felt threatened and acted to defend herself. However, she should not have fired the Taser as she could have protected herself less forcefully. Authority Chair Judge Colin Doherty said:
"The officer could have stepped back out into the corridor and allowed the two officers still in the cell to grab and restrain Mr X, as they had previously done. There were other officers standing in the corridor to assist if needed, and the officer was aware of this. To use the Taser instead was an unjustified use of force"
Further, the officer should not have carried a Taser into the custody area. She had been reassigned from response duties and continued to wear her Taser, unaware that this breached policy. However, despite it being contrary to policy, it was normal practice for Dunedin watch-house staff to carry Tasers at that time.
Policy has now been altered to clarify that Tasers must not be routinely worn in custodial areas.