IPCA investigating after police pepper-spray, try to Taser Northland teen who hadn't committed a crime

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) is investigating after a Northland teenager complained that police officers pepper-sprayed, verbally abused and tried to Taser him during an arrest - despite later finding he hadn't committed a crime.

Whakaari Peri Edmonds was just 17 when police were called to his family home in the Whangārei township of Kamo in May last year, following an altercation with his brother.

Two constables were called to the scene, one of whom is alleged to have grabbed Peri and twisted his arm. Peri says he told the officer he was in pain only for him to twist it further, culminating in Peri wriggling free and fleeing the scene.

At this point, one of the officers is alleged to have fired a Taser in Peri's direction. Feeling the barb brush narrowly past his face, Peri claims he stopped running away and handed himself over, agreeing to lie face down as they arrested him.

Despite his compliance, however, Peri alleges an officer jumped on top of him, pinned him to the ground and - with the encouragement of a colleague - pepper-sprayed him in the eyes and face.

While this was happening, Peri says the officer verbally abused him, yelling insults including words to the effect of "who's the tough guy now, c***?"

Police then arrested Peri, charging him with resisting police, escaping from police custody and manual assault of police. However after Peri pleaded not guilty in court, the charges were dropped.

Now, Peri wants the officer who pepper-sprayed him charged. He filed a complaint with IPCA against the police staffer in the weeks after the incident, claiming he was mistreated during his arrest.

Whakaari Peri says police had no reason to pepper-spray him, as he was already compliant.
Whakaari Peri says police had no reason to pepper-spray him, as he was already compliant. Photo credit: Supplied

An IPCA spokesperson told Newshub its investigation is "well-advanced", and it hopes to release its final report into the incident within the next three months.

Peri's support person Shannon Parker, the President of the NZ Police Conduct Association, says she was told privately by police that Taser camera footage from the scene proves Peri was compliant at the time of his arrest, and that the actions of the officers were unjustified.

However Newshub's requests for comment on the incident from police were rebuffed, with a spokesperson citing privacy concerns and the ongoing IPCA investigation.

Police did not grant Newshub's request for access to the Taser footage.

'It seems police think they can treat you however they want'

Peri says the incident is an obvious case of police misconduct.

"When you're young and Māori, it seems police think they have the right to treat you however they want - and they know they will get away with it," he said.

He also argues that Northland Police's poor treatment has extended well beyond the original incident - so poor, in fact, that it's become the subject of another complaint to the IPCA itself.

In a letter sent to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster earlier this week, Parker expressed concerns about the police's attitude throughout the complaints process. 

She said a meeting scheduled for November 16 by police was cancelled without warning just days before - too late for her to withdraw an annual leave request she'd made allowing her to attend the meeting alongside Peri.

The letter also detailed how she believed Northland Police had breached the Victims Rights Act 2002 twice by failing to notify Peri of progress on their investigation or offer him any support.

"It could easily be perceived that police didn't offer him any support because the accused was one of their own, coupled with the fact that police didn't view Mr Peri as a victim," Parker wrote.

"Intended or otherwise, these actions send a message that police do not care about victims when the alleged offender is one of their own."

Peri agrees.

"The complaints process has been drawn out, stressful and unfair. Everything has been about keeping you in the dark and about police protecting their own," he told Newshub.

"I wasn't contacted for a year after they took my complaint. It's like I just didn't matter at all. You aren't a victim when the offender is a police officer."

In addition to the lack of contact, the three charges laid against Peri were kept in the courts for over a year before he pleaded not guilty and they were withdrawn.

Peri believes they just kept him on the charges in the hopes he'd plead guilty, leading to a more favourable outcome for the officer under investigation.

In her letter to the Commissioner, Parker noted police had charged Peri over alleged offences on May 26 "immediately and without delay" - but the same action hadn't been taken for the officer despite having Taser footage of the incident.

Peri said it's unfair that he was put before the courts for assaulting that officer when the whole time, police had footage of him allegedly assaulting Peri - and yet he hasn't been put before the courts.

A history of bad blood with the police

Parker says she was told in a private meeting by police that the officer fired a Taser at Peri because they believed he may return to the area and posed a threat.

But Peri believes this isn't a justification - particularly as he maintains he wasn't combative towards police at the time.

"It is viewed that any officer could use the 'he might return' excuse in any scenario where they Tasered or shot a person that was not posing a threat at the time," Parker said in a letter to the IPCA.

"This is viewed as dangerous and unacceptable."

For Peri, the incident and its aftermath are the latest in a string of altercations that have eroded his trust in Northland Police. The 18-year-old has had several run-ins with the cops, but not always for the most legitimate reasons.

At age 13, he was taken into custody by police in an apparent case of mistaken identity, while last year he was threatened with a fine by an officer during a traffic stop because he was filming the interaction - something he was within his rights to do.

Police later apologised for the officer's threat, but for Peri, the damage had already been done.

Parker says Peri's past experiences with Northland Police are the reason he tried to flee from the scene during the May 26 incident - he doesn't trust them, believes they are racist and thinks they will try to target him unfairly.

A 2019 Tactical Options Research report shows Māori are disproportionately subjected to use of force by police. It found that while Māori males aged 17-40 make up less than 3 percent of New Zealand's population, they account for 35 percent of all such incidents.

The latest run-in has only eroded Peri's relationship with the authorities further.

"This is how police treat people when the offender is one of their own," Parker said. "Police are letting themselves down. It's past time they changed how they treat complainants and victims of police misconduct."