'Excessive force' by police who punched woman with mental health issues in the cheek - independent inquiry

The IPCA has released its findings into the incident.
The IPCA has released its findings into the incident. Photo credit: Getty

Warning: This article deals with self-harm.

The police watchdog has found officers used unnecessary excessive force on a Tauranga woman last year.

She attempted self-harm twice in a custody unit in 2019.

According to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), one of the officers punched her in the cheek after she attempted to bite him.

"The woman was arrested for fighting and placed in the back of a patrol car where she struggled with officers," the authority said in a statement.  

"One of the officers used excessive force, punching her in the cheek after she attempted to bite him. The woman was then placed in a spit hood, which was justifiable in the circumstances."

But the IPCA says police failed to check alerts about the woman in the database when they arrived at the custody unit.

"This meant they did not consider her history of self-harming and put an appropriate plan in place to keep her safe.

"The woman went on to attempt to strangle herself twice, once with the spit hood and once with a sweatshirt. Following both attempts, a number of officers applied significant physical force to restrain the woman. 

"Officers should have placed the woman in a tear-resistant gown following her attempt to self-harm and should not have left her sitting in the restraint chair with no trousers on."

In response to the IPCA report, police acknowledged more could have been done to make sure the woman was checked properly.

"The issues highlighted in the report have been raised with the staff involved and the need to adhere to policies in place has been reinforced," Bay of Plenty District Commander Supt Andy McGregor said.

He said police started a national custody programme earlier this year to deliver an "effective, safe and transparent" service.

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