Hamilton police 'unjustified' in use of taser on prisoner in custody
A police officer was not justified in using a taser on a prisoner being held down by three other officers at Hamilton District Court, an independent inquiry has found.
But the Independent Police Conduct Authority found officers were justified in using other force to restrain the man.
The incident unfolded in the stairwell of the Hamilton District Courthouse on January 26 this year.
The 42-year-old prisoner had earlier appeared in court on an attempted murder charge and was remanded in custody to be transferred to Springhill Prison that afternoon.
While he was being moved by Corrections and police officers from his court cell to a security area, the officers said the prisoner became abusive and threatening.
He was seen throwing his arms in the air in a threatening manner yelling "beat me up", officers told the authority.
By the time he reached the security area he was "out of control", the report said, with officers describing him as "puffed up, fists balled and arms out in 'ready stance'."
One police officer became so concerned that he drew his Taser but held it in a concealed position.
As the prisoner was being escorted down the stairs to the waiting prison truck in the loading bay a struggle ensued.
One officer said he grabbed the prisoner by the upper arm and pushed him towards the stairwell, leading him down three flights of stairs followed by two other officers.
The prisoner complained that during this process, one of the officers punched him and smashed his head into a wall, the IPCA states.
"The officers denied punching the prisoner. A police officer said he believed the prisoner wanted to fight, so he pushed him up against the wall in order to control him but did not push his head against the wall.
At that point two other officers ran down from upstairs and found the two officers struggling with the prisoner.
Arriving officers told the authority the prisoner threw punches and a "haymaker swing" at one of the officers so each of the two grabbed onto his arm and upper body.
"Three other officers then took hold of the prisoner in an attempt to restrain him, and took him to the ground where he continued to struggle."
Another prisoner who witnessed the struggle from the prison van told the authority he saw the complainant in a confrontation with the officer who was "trying to get him to behave".
He said the officer threw the prisoner up against the wall and then three others helped get him to the ground but did not see any punches being thrown.
After the prisoner had struggled on the ground for about 15 seconds, the police officer used his Taser to apply a "contact stun" to the prisoner's upper thigh.
"Mr X was taken to the ground initially on his back while officers tried to handcuff him.
"Officer D yelled a warning to Mr X "Taser for a contact stun" then immediately applied the Taser to the upper thigh."
Seven seconds later he applied a second contact stun - although this failed to generate any shock.
The prisoner was then restrained in handcuffs and was seen by an ambulance paramedic in his court cell.
The man later complained to the authority alleging police had used excess force.
Camera footage from the Taser shows the prisoner was not kicking out, or in a position to assault the officers either immediately before, or at the time, both contact stuns were applied.
Because the prisoner was not directly assaulting or threatening officers at the time, the force was deemed unjustified.
The Authority was unable to determine whether the prisoner was punched in the stairwell.
"Mr X was non-compliant and actively resisting the officers. They were justified in restraining him", said Authority Chair, Judge Colin Doherty.
"However, the Authority is satisfied on the evidence that he was not assaulting or threatening the officers at the time he was tasered. Mr X could and should have been restrained by the officers who were struggling with him, without the need to apply a contact stun. Other means to subdue him should have been used."
Despite the initial medical observation, the prisoner continued to suffer abdominal pain and subsequent X-rays showed he suffered a fractured right rib in the struggle.
Waikato district commander Superintendent Bruce Bird said he backed the officers involved but lessons had been learned.
"We have full confidence that our officer acted appropriately in this aspect of the incident and his actions were supported by other officers who assisted with restraining this prisoner.
Bird noted the officer's use of the taser was contrary to policy and not justified but the force used on the prisoner at the security area was reasonable given the circumstances.
"We have discussed this incident thoroughly with the officer involved and learnt from the mistake that was made," Bird said.