Police criticised after teen beaten

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 11:39 20/03/2014
Gary Knowles
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GARY KNOWLES: Canterbury District Commander, Superintendent Gary Knowles, said officer's actions were "unacceptable".

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Christchurch police have been criticised for failing to properly investigate an incident where an off-duty officer hit a 17-year-old with his baton multiple times over a smashed letterbox.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report, released today, said police deviated from "proper process" when they failed to interview the officer about the incident.

> Read the summary of the report here.

Police also unfairly decided it was "not in the public interest" to prosecute the officer, the IPCA found.

The off-duty police officer's Fendalton letterbox was destroyed about midnight on June 12, 2011, the IPCA report said.

On hearing the smashing noise and seeing a group of people in his driveway, the off-duty officer collected his police baton before heading outside, it said.

By this time, the group had left the driveway but the officer could see a group of people nearby, walking away.

The off-duty officer got into his car and after catching up with the group he approached them on foot asking who had smashed his letterbox.

When one of the youths, a 17-year-old, told the off-duty officer he did not know who was responsible the off-duty officer hit him multiple times with his baton.

Later that day, the 17-year-old's mother contacted police to report the attack.

Police interviewed the 17-year-old and his parents, who were insistent that some action be taken against the officer.

However, police did not interview the officer as part of the criminal investigation.

Police decided it was "not in the public interest" to charge the officer, the report said.

IPCA chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said the decision not to interview the officer as part of the criminal investigation was "a departure from the proper process".

Carruthers also said the decision not to prosecute the off-duty officer because it was "not in the public interest to do so" was made "without proper consideration of the prosecution guidelines".

"The processes followed by Christchurch police in reaching their decision not to prosecute the off-duty officer involved were unfair," he said.

However, the IPCA found that for police to reconsider prosecuting the officer "at this late stage" would be an abuse of process, "given that the officer was informed he would not be charged prior to engaging in the employment process".

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The officer's conduct was subsequently referred for an employment investigation.

POLICE RESPOND

Canterbury District Commander Superintendent Gary Knowles accepted the findings.

"There is absolutely no question that the actions taken by the officer against the 17-year old victim were unacceptable," he said.

The victim and his family had been "let down by a poor process" and he would offer to meet them and apologise.

Knowles confirmed there would be no further action taken against the officer involved.

The investigator and acting district commander at the time had been spoken to about the issues raised by the IPCA.

Knowles said he believed they had acted "with the best intentions" and there was "never any deliberate attempt to protect the officer or to minimise the seriousness of the offending".

There had also been a "miscommunication" between police and the family involved in terms of the scope of the internal code of conduct investigation.

Changes to the way investigations into officers were handled had already changed as a result of the incident, Knowles said.

"I am confident that things would be handled differently now."

- The Press

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