The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that a Police officer was not justified in tasering a man detained in the Tauranga District Court cells three times in February 2019. The officer was charged with assault with a weapon for each Taser discharge and was acquitted by a jury in July 2022.
A man was taken from Tauranga Police Station to court cells to await an appearance. The man suffers from mental illness and was agitated and disruptive throughout the morning. He attempted to leave the cell, and the officer involved in this incident, together with his colleagues, had to pick him up and force him back into the cell. A Community Magistrate remanded the man in custody, and he needed to be moved back to the custody suite at the Police station. He did not want to go and would not cooperate.
After an attempt to persuade him to come voluntarily, the officer entered the cell with a Taser pointed at the man. Another Police officer and three Corrections officers also entered and tried to restrain the man.
The officer told the Authority that he believed the man had hit and pushed away two of his colleagues, and that he posed an imminent and serious threat to himself. He says the man threatened to kill him, and he believed he was about to be assaulted. He was extremely wary of the man’s strength and speed. He fired the Taser when the man lunged at him, he said to defend himself and his colleagues.
He activated the Taser twice more while the man was on the ground. He believed the man was attempting to get up and was armed with a sharp Taser probe that could cause serious harm to himself and his colleagues who would handcuff the man.
The Authority viewed CCTV footage from the cell and footage from the camera mounted on the Taser. We spoke to the officers involved as well as the man. We also assessed the evidence from the officer’s jury trial.
There is a fundamental contradiction between the threat the officer and some of his colleagues say existed, and which prompted the officer to act, and what can be clearly seen on both pieces of footage. We cannot see any evidence of the officer’s colleagues being punched or pushed, or the officer himself in a position of physical threat prior to any of the Taser discharges. Despite what he now says, he simply cannot have perceived an imminent and serious threat at the time.
We have concluded that the officer honestly believes his version of events. We believe he has constructed this story to fit the events after the fact, and he now believes this version to be true. This version has subsequently been reinforced through repeatedly watching the footage frame-by-frame in preparation for court. In short, his recollection is unreliable, but not dishonest.
Because the officer did not believe he was facing an imminent and serious threat prior to each Taser discharge, he cannot have fired the Taser to defend himself or others. Rather, we believe he did so to force the man to comply with instructions and make the extraction easier. The officer cannot rely on self-defence to justify his actions.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty said, “I acknowledge that a jury acquitted this officer of criminal charges. However, the Authority has considered the evidence using a different lens and employing a civil standard of proof.
The man did not pose a threat justifying the level of force used against him, and given the reality portrayed on the footage of this incident, the officer cannot have perceived that this was the case at the time. However, I accept he honestly believes a different construction of events.”
The Authority completed its investigation into this incident in December 2019 but delayed the release of its public report until after the conclusion of court proceedings in July 2022.