A Whakatane police officer did not deliberately pepper spray a 10-year-old girl and her mother but he was careless to use the spray inside a car, the police watchdog says
The incident occurred in September 2015 when police arrested a man driving a ute after he had earlier failed to stop for them.
When pulled over, the man then did not give his name or licence "and repeatedly raised Māori sovereignty issues".
Believing he was about to drive away, two police officers reached into the car to unlock the man's door but he trapped their arms and a scuffle ensued.
While the level of force involved in the scuffle is disputed, police then used pepper spray on the man and he was pulled from the ute.
The mother of the girl later made a complaint about the incident to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) saying, among other things, police had deliberately sprayed the man, herself and their 10-year-old daughter inside the ute.
The authority said while the officer did not target the girl or her mother, it accepted the child was badly affected by the pepper spray.
"There is no doubt that this was a dynamic situation," authority chairman Sir David Carruthers said.
"However, when spraying the man, the officer did not properly consider the necessity of using pepper spray in a confined space, the likelihood that it would affect the other innocent passengers or the fact that he was using a more powerful spray."
Police repeated an apology made at the time of the incident for the unnecessary distress and pain caused.
"In situations like these, events unfold rapidly and decisions need to be made quickly. Our officers responded to the situation confronting them in order to both protect themselves and keep the community safe," said Whakatane area commander Inspector Kevin Taylor.