Northland cops avoid charges after IPCA finds use of Taser, pepper-spray on teen was 'unjustified' and 'excessive'

A Northland teen who was unjustifiably Tasered and pepper-sprayed by two police officers says he's learnt you can get away with anything if you're a cop, after the pair evaded criminal charges for their actions.

The decision not to charge the officers comes despite an Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) report released on Thursday finding their behaviour toward Peri constituted an excessive use of force.

Whakaari Peri Edmonds was 17 when officers attempted to shoot him with a Taser before pepper-spraying and hurling expletive-laden verbal abuse at him while he lay handcuffed and compliant on the ground in May 2019.

While he's pleased the incident and its aftermath have now come to an end, Peri says his treatment by police - which saw him face charges for a year before they were dropped - shows Northland Police think they can treat young Māori however they want.

He told Newshub he will never trust them again.

"This has taught me that if you are a police officer, you can get away with anything."

As well as condemning the use of a Taser and pepper-spray, the IPCA report found that the language of one officer, who taunted Peri as a "f**king tough c**t" after pepper-spraying him between the eyes, was "unprofessional and inappropriate".

The IPCA found the police were not justified in pepper-spraying Whakaari Peri Edmonds, then 17, as he was already compliant.
The IPCA found the police were not justified in pepper-spraying Whakaari Peri Edmonds, then 17, as he was already compliant. Photo credit: Supplied

However police opted not to file criminal charges against the two officers, as they believed the use of a Taser to be justified under the Crimes Act.

They also took into account the inexperience of the cops, who had spent just 12 months and 14 months in the police respectively, deciding the matter should be resolved through a employment process.

How the incident unfolded

The incident occurred when police were called to Peri's family home in the Whangārei township of Kamo on May 26, 2019, following reports of two brothers fighting.

Two probationary constables were sent to the scene, and one placed his hand on Peri's chest to stop him approaching his younger sibling. Peri allegedly responded by pushing the officer twice, causing them to place him under arrest.

However Peri says their attempt to handcuff him caused him pain, so he fought back, tackling the officer and fleeing the scene. It was then that an officer fired their Taser, narrowly missing him.

Peri stopped running and lay on the ground at the request of the officer. It was at this point, while he was compliant, the other officer pepper-sprayed him between the eyes and yelled abuse.

They then arrested him and took him to Whangārei Police Station.

Peri was later charged with resisting police, escaping from police custody and manual assault of police. However after Peri pleaded not guilty in court, the charges were dropped.

He then turned the tables, filing a complaint with the IPCA against the police staffers, arguing that he was mistreated during the arrest and then later during the complaints process.

Peri's support person Shannon Parker, the President of the NZ Police Conduct Association, says 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.

"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," Peri told Newshub in November 2020.

"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.

'I'm glad this is over now'

Following the release of the IPCA report on Thursday, Peri told Newshub that while the report hasn't changed anything and the officers got away with their actions, he's glad the incident is over and he can now move on.

"This has been a stressful time for me," he said.

"I spent a year in the courts and over a year not knowing what was happening with my complaint because the Police and IPCA didn't seem to think I deserved to be updated on their investigations.

"This has taught me that if you are a police officer you can get away with anything… I will never trust Northland Police again."

Parker said her client has been let down by both police and the IPCA.

She's urging police to make changes to the complaints process and to their treatment of complainants.

"This case highlights the major differences between a civilian being investigated and a police officer being investigated. The public should be concerned by this," she said.

"A complaint result you disagree with is easier to stomach if you believe you have been treated fairly and reasonably throughout the process."

Police officers 'fell short of the standards we expect'

Northland Police say they accept the findings of the IPCA report.

They also recently met with Peri to apologise to him as part of their restorative practice process.

Acting Northland District Commander Inspector Riki Whiu says while emotions were running high and Peri had allegedly tackled one of the officers, their actions weren't justified.

"The actions of the officers in this incident fell short of the standards of professionalism, respect and integrity we expect from our staff," he said.

"There are lessons for us as a result of this incident that we will learn from so we can improve and do better in future.

"The officers were spoken with and supported around their tactical options decision-making process. I am confident the officers involved have learned from this incident and will make better tactical decisions in future when dealing with volatile situations."

A history of bad blood with police

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.

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."