Cop jailed for indecent assault

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 16:55 03/07/2014

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A Hastings policeman who indecently assaulted teenage girls has been sentenced to 22 months imprisonment.

Adam Dunnett was found guilty of six charges of indecent assault after a judge-alone trial before Judge Les Atkins in May.

During sentencing in the Napier District Court today victims told Dunnett, 37, how his actions haunted them. They felt "violated and dirty" and no longer trusted older men or police officers.

One victim revealed she felt suicidal because the feelings of unhappiness did not go away. She was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression and hospitalised at one point due to her mental instability.

"In my darkest moments I lost the will to do things as simple as living."

Dunnett built up her trust, saying he was her "cool older brother" and that he would always look after her.

"You used those words insidiously," she said while reading her victim impact statement.

"How am I supposed to trust another policeman, coach or mentor?"

Another victim told the court she used to cry herself to sleep and was now afraid of men she didn't know.

She failed a university paper because she was distracted by the trial, the court heard.

The assaults on the girls, all older than 16, occurred between May 2011 and December 2012 while Dunnett was a volunteer lifeguard director at the Ocean Beach Surf Life Saving Club.

Dunnett, 38, denied all 10 indecent assault charges. Three of the charges were dismissed and one count was dropped during the trial.

Crown prosecutor Gavin Thornton said Dunnett exploited his position of authority to discourage the teens from going to police, telling them that no-one would believe them.

Dunnett believed he had "immunity" from the responsibility of offending, Thornton said. His "blemish-free' record as a police officer should not be used to give credit when sentencing because it was this organisation he had brought into disrepute.

Thornton submitted imprisonment was a "consistent and appropriate" sentence.

Lawyer Jonathan Krebs said the exemplary life Dunnett lived previously needed to be balanced against the offending.

A character reference read to the court from Pat Benson QSM said the "snapshot" of Dunnett portrayed was not a "true account of the person he really is".

Krebs emphasised that Dunnett was not "operating" as a police officer when he offended.

Dunnett, an officer of 10 years, resigned following the trial in May. He had been suspended from duty on full pay since being charged in April 2013.

Krebs said Dunnett had suffered "huge public shaming", lost his career and his ability to participate in surf life saving. He submitted that home detention could be imposed  instead of a lesser sentence of imprisonment.

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Judge Atkins said Dunnett had a "sense of entitlement" which was apparent during the trial. He suspected it bordered on arrogance when dealing with younger people.

Dunnett believed the victims "embellished" the incidents but Judge Atkins said he found the victims evidence compelling.

Dunnett was not remorseful and his actions undermined his work as a police officer, the judge said.

Judge Atkins found home detention was not suitable because of the number of victims and their vulnerability.
He sentenced him to 22 months imprisonment.

Dunnett joined the surf club when he was 14. He left the region to work as an officer in Auckland before returning to Hawke's Bay in 2008.

Judge Atkins gave Dunnett a first strike warning under the three strikes legislation.

Dunnett's sentencing, after a lengthy investigation on behalf of the young victims, sent a message that police would not tolerate such behaviour among its staff, Eastern District Commander Superintendent Sandra Venables said.

"Dunnett's actions are completely contrary to our Code of Conduct and undermine the very good work undertaken by Hawke's Bay Police staff. 

"The public rightly expects high standards from police officers and we will not hesitate to take appropriate action against those who do not meet these standards, including putting them before the courts," Venables said. 

An employment investigation had been underway for Dunnett, pending the outcome of his court case, but that was overtaken by his resignation.

"I would like to thank the staff who carried out a professional investigation into one of their own. I would also like to acknowledge the victims, and police will continue to offer them support," she said.

- The Dominion Post

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