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Officer not guilty, but conduct investigated

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 30/11/2012

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The Manawatu policeman acquitted of assaulting a rude and aggressive drink-driver remains on restricted duties pending an internal investigation.

It took a Palmerston North District Court jury 90 minutes to find the officer, who has permanent name suppression, not guilty on two charges of common assault stemming from a December 2010 incident.

He was accused of striking a drink-driver in the face while in the back of a patrol car and pushing the same man, whose name is also suppressed, into a cell face-first while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

The defence successfully argued the policeman acted in self-defence after attempted headbutts by the arrested man, and used reasonable force.

When the verdicts were announced the policeman was visibly relieved, but he still faces an internal employment investigation.

"It involves looking at the events that occurred in relation to police procedure and whether or not we believe the man acted in good faith," Central District area commander Superintendent Russell Gibson told The Manawatu Standard.

The policeman has been on restricted duties since the incident came to light and that will continue.

"He's been deployed in an office function."

Mr Gibson said police hoped to deal with its investigation as quickly as possible, though it might take about three months.

Independent Police Conduct Authority complaints manager Pieter Roozendaal said the authority would review the police inquiry and prosecution.

It has called for the police file once it is available.

The trial jury heard the arrested man used foul language to the policeman and the female police officer working with him, and criticised the police and the justice system.

The Standard can now reveal the arrested man has served a prison term for aggravated robbery.

A search of the court file also uncovers the measures the policeman's defence took to try to keep his identity secret.

An undated memo to the court from the policeman's lawyer Mike Antunovic asked for his client's occupation to be suppressed.

"There would be no suspicion passed on to other serving police officers if the defendant's occupation is not allowed to be published."

On court documents detailing the charges and made available to the press at the policeman's first appearance, the line listing the man's occupation was left blank.

Judge David Smith this week imposed final suppression orders because of the difficulties the policeman could face if he were named, even though he was acquitted.

Court records show he has been recognised for his bravery in the line of duty, but no details of that can be published without breaching the suppression order.

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- The Manawatu Standard

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