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Police justified in using sponge rounds in self-defence during arrest in Invercargill

16 November 2023

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that an officer was justified in shooting a man twice with a sponge round.

On 18 July 2022 the Armed Offender Squad (AOS) carried out an operation to arrest and search the property of a man, after Police had intercepted a package containing Class A drugs.

When the AOS entered the man’s address, he fled on foot to the rear of the property, pursued by Police. The man jumped into a hole in the ground and had his back turned to Police. Police instructed the man to show his hands, but he did not comply with their instructions. Officers saw the man move his elbows as if he was bending something in half. This caused the officers to perceive that the man was breaking and loading a shotgun. An officer fired a sponge round which struck the man on his back. The man fell over in the hole and Police again called to him to show his hands. The man did not comply, and the officer fired a second sponge round which also struck the man’s back. The man then complied and was taken into custody. The Authority concluded that the officer was justified in shooting the man on both occasions in defence of himself and his colleagues.

The man sustained cartilage fractures to three of his ribs and alleged that AOS officers assaulted him after he had been handcuffed. The officers denied using any other force on the man. The medical evidence was not consistent with the man’s account of the assault. We concluded these injuries were probably sustained when he fell over in the hole.

The Authority Chair, Judge Kenneth Johnston KC, said: “Although Officer A held a mistaken belief, we accept that it was a reasonable perception of the situation and genuinely held. The man was a high-risk offender with a history of firearms convictions; most relevantly, the unlawful possession and reckless discharge of firearms. Officer A’s stated belief was also held by another officer, and the Taser footage corroborates that the man’s movements could reasonably be interpreted in this way.”

Public Report
Police justified in using sponge rounds in self-defence during arrest in Invercargill (PDF 441KB)
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