Two west Auckland men mistakenly arrested at gunpoint earlier this month say police are downplaying the trauma of the experience after they were offered movie tickets and food vouchers as an apology.
James*, Brandon Moase, and Moase's one-year-old son were driving home from the city's popular Mission Bay on Saturday, January 16, when they decided to pull into their local bakery in Glen Eden on the way home.
But after parking the car on Glenmall Place, armed police swarmed around them, ordering them to exit the vehicle and get on their knees.
"I heard yelling and I turned around and saw cop cars and guns pointed at us. I didn't really know what the hell was going on," James told Newshub.
"My friend was exited from the vehicle and told to leave by the Armed Offenders [Squad]. He got out of the car and was put on his knees and handcuffed and pulled to the side. Then so was I."
Armed police had been in the area looking for a suspect and his associate after reports a firearm had been presented during a drug deal at the nearby Parrs Park.
Police have since located the suspects and charged them with aggravated robbery and unlawful possession of a firearm.
But at the time the pair, unaware of why they’d been targeted, were terrified.
It was only later when, after being arrested in the street with guns trained at their backs and transferred to a police car, they were told why they had been detained.
Minutes later, they realised they'd got it wrong.
"One of the cops basically just said 'cut them loose, it's not them'," James remembers. "I don't know about Brandon, but I just got the 'sorry about the confusion' thing - half-arsed as. Then we got sent on our way.
"We weren't offered any support… We didn't know what to do. We were stuck and in shock. We didn't know where to turn or where to go.
"We thought it was ridiculous that they thought we'd commit an armed robbery with a one-year-old in the car, and then go to the bakery. We both left in shock."
'This just sets me back'
The men were extremely shaken by the ordeal. Even now, two weeks on from their wrongful arrest, the pair are still coming to terms with the trauma of what occurred that day.
Adding to their struggle was seeing photos and videos of themselves being arrested posted on social media and news websites, dredging up memories of James' past run-ins with police.
"Everyone I know has messaged me. I'm trying to live my life and lay low, start a family, and this just sets me back," he said.
"I've had partners, family on the phone thinking I'd done something crazy. It's horrible. I suffer from anxiety and depression as well, and I see a counsellor. It's been hard to get through that stuff, you know?
"My friend [Moase] already lost a child a year-and-a-half ago, and it was a hugely scary thing for him. I've had trouble sleeping since, and he has too - he's been waking up worrying about his child."
Two days after the mistaken arrest, Acting Area Commander for Waitematā West Inspector John Thornley told RNZ's Morning Report he understood it had been an "upsetting situation" for the men.
"In something like this it's our priority to ensure the community is kept safe and that people of interest to us who may be armed are brought into custody without further incident," he said at the time.
"[Our staff] are put into situations like this all the time and have to make split-second decisions with incomplete information. They do so with the right intent and that's what's happened here.
"That's not to take away from how upsetting it would have been for the people involved, and for that, we apologise."
'They kept trying to downplay it'
In the days after the mistaken arrest, Waitematā District Commander Superintendent Naila Hassan organised to meet with the men.
They were given the opportunity to explain how the experience had unfolded, their frustrations at their treatment by police, and the consequences it'd had on their mental health.
But after listening to what they had to say, James was left mortified by Superintendent Hassan's response.
"She tried to offer us movie tickets and food vouchers after we'd just sat there for 10 minutes telling her how traumatised and shocked we were," he said.
"I just felt like I'd been completely swept under the rug. It didn't matter what had happened to us or what our feelings were. It felt more like she was just trying to make her men look good.
"She kept trying to downplay it and say her officers were just doing what they were trained to do. I do kind of understand that to an extent, but it would've been nice to have some accountability and responsibility for their actions, to actually apologise for the way they treated us."
James has since requested monetary compensation from police for the trauma and is hopeful the police will change their tune and offer him and Moase something better than movie tickets.
"I don't know how long this is going to affect me," he said. "I feel like they should definitely give us something for what's happened - it was a traumatic experience."
Police say arrest was 'entirely proper'
Police refused to comment on the meeting and James' complaints, citing an ongoing Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigation into the incident.
However Newshub has seen a letter sent to Moase from Supt Hassan last Thursday, expressing that while police were sorry for the distress and inconvenience caused by their actions, it stood by its decision to remove them from the vehicle and conduct a search.
"I am of the view that it was entirely proper for our officers to respond in that manner as a result of the information they had received," she wrote. "Their actions in removing you from the vehicle is what the community would expect Police to do in the circumstances."
Supt Hassan advised Moase that it had noted his concerns about how police treated him at the time and would look into it.
The police have told James they won't consider his compensation request until after the IPCA investigation is complete, which it informed him "may take some weeks".
But this has been the subject of an IPCA complaint of its own, with James complaining that while police were very happy to offer compensation in the form of movie tickets, they're dragging their heels now he's requested money.
He's also unhappy that officers neither offered any support at the time, nor left contact details.
James says he's hopeful of a payout in the region of $5000, and wants police to learn from their actions.
"I'm not angry, I just think they should take this as a training moment and use it to sort out things they could do better in those sorts of situations - especially involving toddlers," he said.
"I just feel like I haven't been taken seriously. I feel like I'm just another statistic they don't care about and they can just go around treating people like this when they want. I feel like I didn't get a fair apology.
"I'm pretty disappointed in the New Zealand Police overall."
*James is not his real name.