Investigation uncovers 'concerning culture' at Auckland court police workplace, woman repeatedly sexually harassed

The Auckland District Court.
The Auckland District Court. Photo credit: Google Maps.

An investigation by the police watchdog into inappropriate behaviour by an Auckland court custody officer towards a colleague in 2018 led the authority to question the culture at the unit, a newly published report into the man's actions reveals.

Police were notified by a female officer in November 2018 of allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by a male officer at the Auckland District Court Custody Unit. The officer was stood down at the time while an investigation was undertaken.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) looked into the incident, finding the male officer "acted criminally when he repeatedly behaved in an unwanted and sexually inappropriate manner". However, it also found issues with the unit's culture which allowed the behaviour to continue.

The report said the man's behaviour had not been reported by colleagues "despite a number of them witnessing incidents". Most colleagues told the watchdog that it was "because they thought he was joking".

"This led the Authority to question the culture of the workplace," the IPCA report said.

"There was a concerning culture of acceptance in the workplace by the [male officer's] colleagues which allowed inappropriate sexual and non-sexual behaviour to continue."

The IPCA investigation was completed in February 2020, but the release of the public report was delayed until Tuesday due to court proceedings. The male officer has since pleaded guilty and been convicted on two charges of male assaults female. He resigned in September 2020.

Custody officers are non-sworn police officers who manage detainees. The full report can be found here.

Inappropriate behaviour

According to the IPCA report, the female officer told a sergeant on November 21, 2018 that she had been sexually harassed by a male colleague, something she described as a regular occurence. 

The behaviour included the male officer "bending [the female officer] over a table and simulating sex with her… and touching her in an unwarranted sexual manner".

It is said to have begun about six months after she started working at the unit "and then continued to escalate in both frequency and degree". She said "grabbing" and "less serious behaviour", as the report puts it, occurred daily, while more serious actions happened "probably a few times every week, of every month".

The woman told the IPCA that "it didn't matter how many times I asked him to stop… it's like he didn't even hear" and that she had instances of needing to "run to get back into my courtroom, to get away from him and close the door".

On one instance when the woman said the man threw her on a table in front of up to six other colleagues during lunch and made vulgar comments to her, she felt she couldn't escape.

"I can't even speak… I've said stop, get off and I've been firm, but on this occasion, there was such a violence to it where he just… squeezed me so tight, I could feel my breath slipping away... I really thought I might pass out if he didn't let me go soon."

One officer who witnessed that event told police they felt the man gave the impression he thought it was funny, but he said "you would think he knew he had crossed the line".

Initially, the report said, the man denied simulating sex with the female officer, but "later he wished she had told him she did not like it when he 'humped' her". He confirmed to the IPCA that the lunchtime incident happened, but disagreed he had pinned the woman down.

"He told the Authority the female officers were talking about 'their sexual problems or something', then [the woman] 'pretty much got on the table' voluntarily," the report says.

The authority, however, said it believes the incident happened as the woman recounted "and that it was unlawful as it was of such a significant nature that it had such a detrimental effect on [the female officer]".

Other instances of inappropriate behaviour are detailed in the report, including when the officer and two colleagues were "dancing like strippers" before the male officer "chucked" the female officer on a table and got on top of her. On another occasion, it's reported a prisoner could see the man's behaviour towards the woman.

The female officer told the authority that she sometimes didn't display emotion during the incidents that indicated she found the man's behaviour inappropriate, but the IPCA says it understands she was "under considerable pressure to tolerate his behaviour due to most of their colleagues dismissing it as 'a joke'". 

However, she said on many occasions she did tell the man to stop, something the man rejects. He said he mucked around with people to "try and make them happy", but acknowledged he "took that too far".

The IPCA says the woman should not have been put in a position in the first place to need to tell the man to stop. 

The man has since been convicted.
The man has since been convicted. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Other allegations

The female officer also told the sergeant in November 2018 that she suspected the man of taking a speaker and headphones during a Christmas party at her house. The next day the man gave the speaker to a supervising sergeant, saying he found them in his car. He later admitted taking it.

"It was inappropriate and potentially criminal for [the male officer] to take the speaker from [the female officer's] home without her knowledge," the IPCA said.

Other allegations uncovered during the investigation include that the male officer possibly had gang connections, sent videos of prisoners to other colleagues on Snapchat and had also simulated sex with two other officers without their consent.

Officers told the IPCA they had heard the man use the word "subwhoop", described as a gang call, in conversation with prisoners and thought he had gang affiliations as he wore some red accessories.

The man said that while he had some friends and family that were affiliated with gangs, he was not affiliated himself. While he wore red to work, it was not related to any gang affiliation, he said. He said he had used the term "subwhoop" when "mucking around" with "the boys", but claimed he hadn't used the term to prisoners. He acknowledged it was inappropriate to use in the workplace. The IPCA agreed.

The man's use of "the boys" refers to two other officers who often worked with him and saw him as a "leader". They were also known as "the muscle" in the unit.

In regards to the video recordings, the male officer said he didn't film prisoners, but just "the boys" singing and in empty cells and the office "messing about". 

But the authority believes the men did record prisoners and share the videos, something it considers "inappropriate and contrary to law and police policy".

The unit's culture is said to have improved.
The unit's culture is said to have improved. Photo credit: Newshub.


While the supervising sergeant said he had had no issues with the male officer's conduct prior to the allegations, the man admitted to deliberating hiding his inappropriate behaviour "as he knew they would consider it unacceptable". No one else reported it to their supervisors. 

The woman said she didn't think management would care, while other officers told the IPCA they didn't feel safe speaking up because the sergeants were "tied up with the other jobs" and didn't expect anything to change. 

Some of the man's colleagues believed he was joking and that the woman was enjoying his behaviour. It's also mentioned that there was fear of retaliation due to the man's possible gang links.

The IPCA said neither sergeants can be held accountable as they weren't aware of the behaviour in 2018. When the woman told the sergeant of the man's behaviour he immediately informed the senior sergeant and the man was stood down while investigations were underway.

"The authority is satisfied police management responded appropriately as soon as they became aware of the allegations".

The man said he was never told his conduct was inappropriate. He said it was the "way we were down there… like the culture down there… now that I look at it, that culture was real bad". It was common for men and women in the workplace to talk about their sexual relationships, he said.

His colleagues described officers' humour as "probably not what most normal human beings would consider appropriate", "dark", and part of a "real bad culture, working culture".

The IPCA said it was "deeply concerning" that colleagues of the man witnessed his behaviour and "considered it to be humorous and acceptable, rather than serious and potentially criminal" and therefore didn't report it. 

The report said police have done "significant work" to address the culture at the unit since the man's conduct came to light. 

"Police believe staff are now more aware of what is considered to be inappropriate behaviour and when they have a responsibility to report it," the report said.

"Successive managers have actively sought to improve the workplace culture. This has involved attempting to shift the mindset of staff, setting expectations for attitude and behaviour, and implementing better practices. Police say this work needs to be ongoing and the culture needs to be constantly monitored."

The IPCA said it's satisfied the Auckland District Court Custody Unit culture has improved and that police will continue to work on it.

In a statement on Tuesday, Superintendent Shana Gray, the relieving Auckland City District Commander said police accepted the IPCA's findings and that a thorough investigation "found a pattern of behaviour that did not meet police values".

"We're incredibly disappointed by the behaviour of this individual and as soon as senior Police leaders were made aware of the behaviour it was investigated and addressed. 

"Our people who were subjected to this behaviour have been well supported throughout the investigation and we have been working on a number of initiatives, aimed at improving the culture within our custody unit. This work remains ongoing."