IPCA rules police sergeant groped woman in indecent assault

The police officer defended himself against the accusations.
The police officer defended himself against the accusations. Photo credit: Getty

A police sergeant who was teaching at the New Zealand Police College has been found to have "on the balance of probabilities" indecently assaulted a woman on the way home from a work-related conference.

During the incident, the sergeant used demeaning and sexualised language and groped the woman several times, which left her feeling "extremely uncomfortable" and "panicked".

On Thursday the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) released the results of a review into the assault, which took place in March 2018.

The sergeant had been representing the police at a judicial noho marae (overnight stay) in Turangi where he met the woman, who worked for the Ministry of Justice.

The woman said everyone seemed to like and respect the officer and after discovering they lived near each other, decided to travel together back to Wellington in the same vehicle out of convenience.

"Within minutes of leaving the marae, and at various times throughout the journey, Officer A told her intimate, sexualised and otherwise inappropriate details about his own relationships," the IPCA found.

He also told her stories about refugees being raped, sex workers and prostitutes he claimed were told to him by another officer. But that officer told the IPCA the stories were "embellished" in a sexual nature, or "completely fictitious".

The sergeant then proceeded to inappropriately touch the woman, according to the IPCA's findings, including deliberately brushing his arm against her right breast at least 12 times.

He then "burrowed his hand down by my seat belt clip, so essentially under my bottom", the woman said.

However, the sergeant said the claims are "rubbish" and he "adamantly denies" touching the woman.

"I'm a very touchy-feely person, I give people hugs and kisses... they said I touched her buttocks and her titties 12 times, that didn't happen. I've said inappropriate things, but that [saying I touched her] was really naughty."

But the woman says the officer had to know what he was doing.

"There was no way he would not have realised he was also brushing my breast."

The woman said she felt extremely confused during the car ride and didn't want to "cause a fuss" by asking someone else to drive her instead.

The IPCA said the woman was "extremely uncomfortable throughout the journey, to the point of panicking, as she became concerned about his intentions". 

"Ms X said she was unsure what to do, so she remained polite and friendly. She did not feel in a position to forcefully tell him to stop behaving like he was, as he was driving, they were alone on the remote Desert Road, and her mobile phone was in the boot."

During the investigation, the woman questioned how the officer was allowed to teach.

"How can someone at the heart of the police college - who is responsible for training our officers - have such a demeaning, sexualised and immature view of women?"

Judge Colin Doherty said following the car incident, a police recruit came forward with a complaint that the sergeant also indecently assaulted her.

After this, he resigned from the police.

Royal New Zealand Police College Inspector Iain Saunders, acting general manager training, acknowledged the report on Thursday.

"The actions of the officer-involved were totally unacceptable and failed to represent the values and standards we expect and require of our staff," he said.

"Police treat any allegations involving the conduct of a police officer extremely seriously."

He said the police conducted an employment investigation which resulted in disciplinary action before the officer resigned. But there was not sufficient evidence to criminally charge the sergeant.