The Authority commented that the officers should have attempted to talk to the man to de-escalate the situation, before telling him he was under arrest. The Authority also identified some deficiencies in the care provided to the man in custody and an officer was found to have used unprofessional language in addressing a witness and to have behaved unprofessionally towards him after the incident.
The man had driven onto a vacant lot next to an intersection in Palmerston North and was stumbling and yelling near the intersection, drinking alcohol and damaging his car. Passing witnesses phoned Police concerned about his behaviour. Police were looking for the man regarding a domestic incident 30 minutes earlier and believed he was carrying a knife. The man had a history of assaulting Police and was intoxicated and agitated.
When officers arrived, the man was aggressive and challenging. The dog handler told him he was under arrest and another officer put his hand on the man’s arm, seeing an opportunity to restrain and handcuff him. The man pushed the officer’s arm away and turned to face him. The officer believed the man was going to attack him and reacted by punching him.
“Although the man’s push could be considered a low level of resistance, taken in the context of everything the officer knew about the man and how he was behaving, we would not expect the officer to wait to be assaulted further before making a pre-emptive move to take control of the situation”, said Authority Chair, Judge Kenneth Johnston KC.
During the struggle the two men ended up wrestling on the ground, until the officer managed to extract himself. The dog handler then released his dog to overcome the man’s resistance to arrest. While the dog was biting the man’s leg, he started to gouge the dog’s eyes and the dog handler kicked at the man’s arms and punched him in the head to prevent the dog being seriously injured.
Judge Johnston said, “While we find the use of force by the officers was reasonable when the man resisted arrest, Police policy states that ‘tactical communication should be attempted in every incident where Police action is necessary in response to uncooperative subjects, including those that may require force to be used’. In our judgment, the use of force by the officers was more likely to be required because they did not attempt first to communicate with the man to de-escalate the situation before they proceeded to arrest him.”
Force used in Palmerston North arrest justified (PDF 350 KB)