The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found that an officer’s use of force when arresting a 14-year-old boy in March 2019 was unjustified. While the arrest was lawful, it was undesirable and could have been avoided.
Two officers responded to a report of an aggravated robbery at an Internet café in Tauranga. They had been told Z had used a screwdriver to steal a cell phone from another person at the café. They located Z at the Oranga Tamariki office in the care of social workers. The officers agreed that the social workers should talk to Z and try to persuade him to hand over the cell phone. The officers waited in an adjoining office. Z did hand over the cell phone to the social workers, but then walked to the lift to leave the office.
At this time, Officer B followed and told Z he was under arrest for theft. Without warning, Officer A suddenly lunged at Z from close range. Officer A put both of his hands around Z’s neck and slammed him into the window behind. He then took Z to the ground where he was handcuffed before being taken to the police station. In the course of the incident, Z suffered soft tissue damage to a shoulder and was provided with a sling to wear for several days.
Officer A said he acted as he did because Z was resisting arrest and he believed Z was about to become assaultive. Also, he said he was concerned that Z could have been trying to remove a secreted weapon and use it on either of the officers. One of the social workers who was present complained about Officer A’s actions. The incident was captured on CCTV.
Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty says: “Our investigation found that it was open for the officers to arrest Z as they reasonably believed this was necessary to prevent further offending. However, given Z’s age and his increased agitation around Police, the preferable option was for Police to interview Z at the Oranga Tamariki office in the presence of his social worker and then summons Z to appear in Court. This would have avoided the need to arrest Z and take him to the Police Station to interview and charge him.
Officer A did not have any legal justification for using force on Z. Our investigation established that Z was not resisting arrest at all. Z simply walked away from Officer B before any attempt was made to arrest him. We do not believe that Z was acting as if he were going to remove a weapon from his clothing, nor do we believe that Officer A thought he was doing so. We do not accept that Officer A was acting in defence of himself or anyone else. His use of force on Z was unreasonable and excessive.”
Police charged Officer A with assaulting Z, but this was later withdrawn. Police also charged Officer A with two counts of assault and a charge of injuring with reckless disregard in relation to a separate arrest of a man on 21 September 2018. The Authority is also releasing its public report on that matter today.
Officer A resigned from Police before the Court outcome was finalised. The Authority has delayed the release of its public reports until the related court proceedings concluded.