A man concerned about the state of Lake Horowhenua has had convictions for assault and threatening behaviour quashed by the High Court because a police investigation into related incidents has been deemed "unsatisfactory".
The police officer in charge of the case was a complainant and witness on charges eventually dropped - compromising his independence in the investigation, the court ruled.
Philip Dean Taueki, 53, was found guilty of assaulting and threatening kayaker John Taylor on August 22 at the lake domain. Two charges of using insulting language on August 21 were dropped at a hearing in the Levin District Court but it was those that gave Justice Alan MacKenzie cause for concern.
In the High Court at Palmerston North, Mr Taueki appealed both his two convictions and the $350 fine handed out.
Justice MacKenzie's judgment, released yesterday, struck out Mr Taueki's convictions.
Mr Taueki lives at the lake and is unhappy about its pollution levels and that local bylaws in place to protect the lake are routinely ignored.
On August 21, Senior Constable Mike Tate was preparing to kayak at the lake when he alleged Mr Taueki abused him. He also said he saw Mr Taueki abuse another group of kayakers. The next day Mr Tate returned to the lake with Mr Taylor and called police after an incident between Mr Taylor and Mr Taueki. Both times, Mr Tate was off duty.
The August 21 incidents were investigated by Mr Tate, who was a complainant for one charge and a witness for another. This, Justice MacKenzie said, was "unsatisfactory". "It was in those circumstances not appropriate for Mr Tate to conduct the investigation as officer in charge," the judge said. "The decision whether or not to prosecute should have been made based on information and evidence gathered by proper investigation by a police officer independent of the complainants."
There was also concern that a statement from Mr Tate was not taken and made available to Mr Taueki, who represented himself in court. He had also been advised by email that one of the August 21 charges would not proceed. However, he arrived at court to find that the prosecution was continuing.
While a different police officer investigated the August 22 incidents, Justice MacKenzie said they were closely linked. He also indicated he would have quashed the conviction on the threatening behaviour charge anyway.
Palmerston North rural police area commander Inspector Mark Harrison said the High Court judgment would be reviewed.
Police had already identified it was "not ideal" to have an off-duty officer involved in an investigation. "But in smaller communities police are very much part of the fabric of the community."
Mr Harrison recently met Mr Taueki and told him appropriate steps would be taken so future cases would be at "arm's length" from off-duty officers. "We're going to look at this case and if we need to take any follow-up action, we will."
There was no suggestion of anything "malicious" in this case, Mr Harrison said. Mr Taueki didn't agree and said he had no confidence in the "partisan" Levin police.
"A person who's trying to stick up for his rights is getting slammed in jail every time he objects to this illegal use of the lake," Mr Taueki said of himself.
He said he was going to take the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Authority.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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