Sergeant fights release of cell assault case video

Last updated 22:47 25/09/2008

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A police sergeant acquitted of assaulting a prisoner in a cell wants to block the release of video footage shown to the jury.

News media outlets are seeking more than eight hours of footage filmed at the Whakatane police station where Rawiri Falwasser, 20, was badly injured while in custody on Labour Day in 2006.

Mr Falwasser has said he feared for his life after being struck with batons and pepper-sprayed. He suffered gashes in his head and arm over an eight-hour period.

In June, closed-circuit television tapes of the incident were played to a Tauranga District Court jury that acquitted Sergeant Keith Parsons, 51; Sergeant Earle Busby, 46; Senior Constable Bruce Laing, 53; and Constable John Mills, 39, of nine charges of assaulting Mr Falwasser.

His mother, Kihi Falwasser, was not at yesterday's court hearing but said the family wanted the tapes to be released to media: "People need to see it themselves to form their own opinion of what happened inside the cell."

In the High Court at Auckland yesterday Mr Parsons' lawyer, Susan Hughes, QC, said the tapes should not be released because the media would not broadcast the full tapes as seen by the jury. "A release of the tapes and their showing would subvert the jury system."

But lawyer Adam Hopkinson, acting for TVNZ and TV3, said not releasing the tapes would "inevitably lead to a view that the jury got it wrong and lead to public questioning of the verdict".

"There is clearly a public interest in debating the outcome of a prosecution, whether there is an acquittal or a guilty verdict," Mr Hopkinson said.

Debate and scrutiny of the criminal justice system was "a hallmark of democracy and is a hallmark of a healthy and functioning judicial system".

Crown prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch told the court the public interest in the case was wider than just the verdict: "It related to how a person was treated in custody."

The four officers, who are all suspended while still being paid, will face a hearing by the Police Complaints Authority, even though the authority has since been replaced.

The jury was told Mr Falwasser was arrested on suspicion of taking a neighbour's car and driving dangerously.

 

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- The Dominion Post

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