Police pay after tussle with farmer

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 21/09/2013
Southland Times photo
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
Southland farmer Corey Vreugdenhil.
Inspector Lane Todd
FAIRFAX NZ
Southland area commander Inspector Lane Todd.

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Police have agreed to pay a Southland farmer $14,000 in damages and costs after armed officers entered his property without permission and, in a resulting tussle, pepper-sprayed him, punched him in the face and Tasered him while he was handcuffed.

Court and police documents say three constables, from Invercargill and Bluff, arrived at the Greenhills farm of Corey Vreugdenhil on March 18 last year to investigate a complaint of intimidation laid by his neighbour, Les Cooper.

The two men have a history of confrontation.

The officers entered the property carrying Glock pistols, M4 semi-automatic rifles, pepper spray, Tasers and batons. When they approached Mr Vreugdenhil's house he told them to "f . . . off".

A constable then told Mr Vreugdenhil he was under arrest for "speaking threateningly".

He replied he had done nothing wrong and again told them to "f . . . off".

They remained at the property and entered his house where a tussle took place.

Mr Vreugdenhil was pepper-sprayed and wrestled to the ground. He was subsequently Tasered and punched in the face when, police statements say, he attempted to pull a Glock pistol out of an officer's holster.

Mr Vreugdenhil has this week denied trying to grab the pistol.


To read the police tactical report click here

To read Corey Vregudenhil's wife's statement click here

To read a transcript of the initial 111 complaint click here

To read the police's letter of compensation click here


A constable's statement describes how he looked down and saw Mr Vreugdenhil holding the grip of another constable's Glock pistol. The officer's face "looked frantic and he was trying to break Vreugdenhil's grip on his pistol", the statement says.

After the tussle, Mr Vreugdenhil was taken to the Invercargill police station, seen by a doctor, held in the cells overnight and released on bail the next day.

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Among Mr Vreugdenhil's injuries were wounds from the Taser prongs and wounds to his nose, wrists, shoulder and painful eyes from the pepper spray.

A memorandum before the courts for Mr Vreugdenhil says police later acknowledged that their presence at the property and the subsequent arrest was unlawful.

Police withdrew charges alleging Mr Vreugdenhil had assaulted police and resisted arrest.

Another charge Mr Vreugdenhil faced for threatening to injure his neighbour, Les Cooper, was also dropped.

The memorandum says the three officers had no grounds to remain on Mr Vreugdenhil's property or enter his house.

"Police acknowledge they were clearly told to leave the premises and the defendant clearly revoked their implied licence to remain. Thereafter they were trespassers."

Police this month, in correspondence to Mr Vreugdenhil, agreed to pay him $10,000 in damages, $4000 in costs and write him a letter acknowledging they had breached his rights.

He said yesterday he had not yet received that letter.

Southland area commander Inspector Lane Todd, in correspondence to Mr Vreugdenhil dated February 27, says his complaint about the police handling of the matter was reported to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

"The investigator has concluded that the attending constables technically have failed to leave your address at the time you directed them to," the letter says.

"After legal advice was sought, the investigator further concluded that this in effect was a civil trespass. The investigator however concluded that the attending officers were acting in good faith and had the honest belief that their actions were justified and within the law."

Mr Todd's letter says he has spoken to the constables involved, "and I have reminded them of the legal requirements in incidents of this nature".

Yesterday, Mr Todd told The Southland Times that police were now finalising the settlement agreement with Mr Vreugdenhil. An independent investigation into the incident had been completed and was with the Independent Police Conduct Authority for review, he said.

"Until all matters have been finalised and reviewed it is not appropriate for police to make any further comments at this time."

THE DAY THE COPS ARRIVED AT MY HOUSE

4.40pm, March 18, 2012: Three armed police constables arrive at the rural Greenhills property of Corey Vreugdenhil to question him about a complaint that he had threatened neighbour Les Cooper.

"They came to the front door and knocked and said they wanted to speak to me. I said f... off. Then they barged into the house and said they had come to arrest me and I told them again to f... off," the 1.9 metres and 135 kilos Mr Vreugdenhil said.

He was sitting at his computer desk and the police "dragged me off the chair and pepper-sprayed me".

"I was fighting back, then I stood up and they all fell off."

The officers then threatened to Taser him, he said.

"I stood there and said, ‘what do you want me to do?'. I put my hands behind my back and knelt on the floor and they handcuffed me very tightly. They cut into my wrists."

The pepper spray in his eyes was stinging, he said.

Officers told him they were going to arrest him for an incident with his neighbour, but he told police he had no idea what they were talking about.

Officers then pulled him to his feet. He asked them to loosen the handcuffs so they took them off and put them on at the front of him, he said.

"I asked them to clean my eyes so I could see what was happening and they refused. They said they would get me down the steps.

"I wanted my eyes cleaned first and they refused to clean my eyes. They took me to the steps and I said, 'I am not going down the steps until you clean my eyes', and I stopped, and they didn't. There were two police officers lying on the bottom of the steps."

Two of the officers then jumped on top of him, he said.

"They jumped on top of me and the third officer started punching me in the face."

Police statements say he was punched in the face because he was trying to grab a Glock pistol from the holster of one of the officers, but he denies this.

"I still had handcuffs on then one of the officers pulled out his Taser and Tasered me. I pulled the probe out and threw it back at him.

"Then the officer reloaded his Taser and threatened to Taser me a second time and then one of the officers went to his car and got something to clean my eyes out with."

"I was still sitting at the top of the steps. They proceeded to clean my eyes and Sergeant Wing Ng turned up. My wife was already here. My daughters arrived.

"I was still in handcuffs, bleeding from the nose and mouth from when the officer punched me.

"My daughters were told if they didn't behave, they would be arrested too.

"They took me down the stairs to the police car and then they took me back up the stairs. Then the paddy wagon arrived and they put me in the van and 20 minutes later they took me to the station."

"I refused to get out until a doctor arrived to deal with my injuries. They got a doctor . . . they weren't coming into the paddy wagon to get me out.

"The doctor checked me out and they took photos. Injuries were cuts on the wrist, bleeding nose and mouth and a puncture hole from the Taser.

"They [Taser] bruise good.

"They put me in the cells for the night and took me to court the next morning."

WHAT THE POLICE JOB SHEET SAYS

The following is a New Zealand Police job sheet statement from Constable Jordan Edwards in relation to a tussle he and two other officers had with Corey Vreugdenhil at his property on March 18, 2012.

"We have both tried to gain control of Vreugdenhil and he has continued to break free from our hold, continuing to tussle with us.

"Constable Kingsland has called out ‘firearm'. I have looked down and observed Vreugdenhil holding the pistol grip of Constable Kingsland's Glock pistol with his hands.

"Constable Kingsland's face looked frantic and he was trying to break Vreugdenhil's grip on his pistol.

"Vreugdenhil was pulling on the Glock pistol trying to pull it out from the holster. The pistol and holster had been pulled around so that it was at the front of Constable Kingsland's leg. He was holding the pistol grip pulling the pistol and holster toward constable Kingsland's waist.

"Constable Elder came to our assistance. Constable Elder and I were at the torso/head end of Vreugdenhil trying to push him down onto the deck and pull him away from Constable Kingsland.

"Constable Kingsland is down towards the lower torso/upper leg area of Vreugdenhil. Vreugdenhil is trying to lean forward while holding constable Kingsland's pistol.

"Vreugdenhil is struck in the face by Constable Elder and he momentarily relaxes his grip on the pistol.

"I stand up and move to the east side of Vreugdenhil and draw my Taser.

" I call ‘I have a Taser' and immediately deploy the Taser. I observe the probes hit Vreugdenhil and his body stiffens as a result. He then pulls one of the wires and probe out and is flailing about on the ground, still trying to get to constables Elder and Kingsland.

"I conduct a speed reload and laser paint Vreugdenhil. At this point, constables Elder and Kingsland have moved away from Vreugdenhil and Constable Kingsland also has his Taser painted on Vreugdenhil.

"Vreugdenhil turned himself and sat on the deck. Vreugdenhil was abusive, yelling at us and making numerous comments including the following: ‘You are not going to have a job on Monday', ‘you look out', ‘you're not getting away with this'.

"He is bleeding from his nose."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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