Taser use was 'excessive force'
Police officers are under investigation after a man was Tasered in front of his young daughter and officers gave false evidence about it.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) released a report today criticising the actions of two officers who responded to a suspected domestic disturbance in Timaru in December 2011 and several officers involved in a subsequent court case.
The report said the two officers did not follow "good policing practice" when they used a Taser on Timaru man Troy Duanne Hamuera Reuben on December 29, 2011.
Reuben, a freezing worker, was charged with assaulting an officer after the incident.
In the Timaru District Court on July 5, 2012, Judge Joanna Maze said the evidence given by Constables Christopher Pritchard and Rory Chapman about the incident could not be relied on.
In today's findings, IPCA chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said the use of a Taser on an agitated man was "disproportionate to the perceived threat" he posed and amounted to an "excessive use of force".
The incident happened after a neighbour reported hearing yelling and property being broken at Reuben's house, the IPCA report said.
Pritchard and Chapman entered the house and found Reuben, his partner and his young daughter showering in their togs after a visit to the beach.
Reuben asked the officers to leave the bathroom, but they refused and an argument ensued.
The officers later claimed in the Timaru District Court that Reuben had tried to throw the shower door at them and used his daughter as a shield as he moved into the lounge.
They claimed Reuben then lunged at one officer, who pepper-sprayed him, while the other officer fired a Taser at Reuben's back.
Reuben was acquitted of the charge of assaulting police.
The IPCA found that even if Reuben had deliberately struck the officer it amounted to only a minor assault.
The use of the pepper-spray was justified, but using the Taser was not a proportionate response, the report said.
Carruthers said the officers should have left the bathroom and waited outside for Reuben and his partner to get dressed.
"Instead they stayed in the bathroom and as the situation escalated the officers presented a Taser and [pepper] spray," he said.
"The use of the Taser, especially in the presence of Mr Reuben's children was excessive and contrary to law."
Before the court hearing, police discovered that the briefs of evidence of the two officers involved were contradicted by the Taser camera footage, but the prosecution was still allowed to proceed.
The IPCA found that both officers knowingly gave false evidence in court and recommended the Police Commissioner investigate the conduct of all officers involved.
Assistant Commissioner Allan Boreham said today that the actions of at least four police officers would come under scrutiny following the domestic incident and subsequent court case.
Employment and criminal investigations into the conduct of all staff involved were launched about a month ago after Boreham learned about the IPCA's findings and spoke with Canterbury district commander Superintendent Gary Knowles.
Detective Inspector Greg Murton, from Canterbury CIB, was leading the criminal investigation and reporting directly to acting Detective Superintendent Paul Berry at Police National Headquarters.
"[Murton] will be given whatever resources he needs and he'll be given whatever time he needs to do a thorough job," Boreham said. It was too early to say what charges, if any, could stem from the investigation, he said.
One of the officers who attended the domestic incident had since resigned from the police, but the other officer was still at work.
Boreham said the IPCA report raised "serious issues".
"We accept the findings of the IPCA report," he said.
"This is a high-demand area for us, dealing with domestic disturbances, and it's really important that we get that right and we haven't.
"For that, I apologise to Mr Reuben and his family.
"Integrity is the core value of the New Zealand Police and it's very important that we get our evidence accurate. That's why we've launched an independent inquiry into the actions of all of the officers involved."
Reuben's solicitor Jay Lovely said his client had not received an apology from either of the officers involved.
Lovely said Reuben's children were traumatised by what they saw.
"In terms of what he wants, he wants his children to grow up with respect for, rather than fear of, the police, and a public apology would be nice.
"His children who observed the incident have been traumatised and require help/assistance.
"This will come at a cost which we trust will be met by the police department. We have made this request, and will re submit."
Lovely said Reuben had qualified for legal aid and the Ministry of Justice "paid less than $1300".
He said without legal aid "this action could not have been redressed".
South Canterbury Police Association representative Paul Hampton said the report "highlights some of the difficulties that police face when they attend volatile and unpredictable domestic incidents".
"These investigations are very stressful for all of the parties involved and what is concerning about this report is that it has taken 27 months since the court hearing and almost three years since the incident to be released," Hampton said.