Shamed cop given plum London job

PHIL KITCHIN
Last updated 05:00 23/10/2010

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A senior policeman was rewarded with a prestigious posting to London, despite a secret report saying he acted unlawfully and totally mismanaged a complaint about the unlawful arrest of a justice of the peace.

Superintendent Gary Smith was one of several officers criticised by the Independent Police Conduct Authority. But 11 months after the findings, he was appointed as the police liaison officer to Britain.

The wrongly arrested Tokoroa JP, Mii Teokotai, lost her job as a result of the botched police investigation. She was charged with conspiracy to commit arson but the charge was later dismissed for lack of evidence.

The IPCA report also criticised current Southern district commander Bob Burns and former Bay of Plenty police professional standards head Garth Bryan, since appointed to a senior job at police national headquarters.

The Dominion Post has a copy of the secret September 2009 IPCA report into a string of complaints laid by former policeman Dave White about the 2005 arrest of Mrs Teokotai, his mother-in-law.

The IPCA did not make public its findings because the authority deemed them not of sufficient public interest. It found:

Mr Smith and Mr Bryan acted unlawfully by not telling Commissioner Howard Broad and the IPCA about Mr White's complaint.

Mr Burns and Mr Bryan showed "poor judgment" and failed best practice and police instructions by appointing a Tokoroa senior sergeant with "a clear conflict of interest" to look into the complaint.

Detectives involved in the investigation into Mrs Teokotai acted unprofessionally and two officers appear to have refused to be interviewed about the complaint.

Tokoroa police acted unlawfully by arresting her and lacked justification to incarcerate her and seize her passport and property.

Police breached their legal responsibility to disclose their evidence against her until six months after the case was dismissed.

The initial internal inquiry into complaints against the officers involved "lacked any semblance of independence and professionalism".

The response to Mr White's complaint was "totally mismanaged by senior officers".

Eleven months after the IPCA's findings, Mr Smith was appointed to a role liaising with British and European police.

Mrs Teokotai, a respected member of the Pacific Island community, was charged with conspiring to commit arson after the St Luke's Tamariki and Mokopuna Apii Punanga buildings in Tokoroa were damaged by fire. Police told her employers she was being investigated and Mrs Teokotai, then 66, lost her job managing the kohanga reo.

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A local woman, Odile Johnson-Ackerman, was later jailed for two years for the arson.

Police alleged the arson was committed to stop a new committee finding out about alleged financial irregularities. But later investigation by a Taupo detective found no evidence of fraud.

Police seized a computer and 20,000 documents from Mrs Teokotai and she spent several hours in a police cell. The case collapsed four months later when police failed to disclose any evidence against her. But they refused to return her property for nearly two years and did so only after she took them to court.

After the case was dismissed, Mr White complained to Mr Smith, who was then the Bay of Plenty district commander.

A lack of response from Mr Smith and Mr Bryan – who was assigned to investigate the complaint – led Mr White to complain to the IPCA. The authority said it took eight months before police began investigating, after the IPCA had received its complaint.

Police headquarters said the IPCA did not recommend any disciplinary action against the officers. The issues raised in its report were addressed with them.

Mr Smith was one of six candidates for the London role and the appointment was made by a panel of senior police who had "knowledge of Mr Smith's career background".

- The Dominion Post

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