IPCA report finds police officer 'constructed' story of colleagues being punched, pushed so he could tase suspect

IPCA report finds police officer 'constructed' story of colleagues being punched, pushed so he could tase suspect
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The police watchdog has found an officer was not justified in tasering a man three times who was being held in the Tauranga District Court cells in 2019. 

In a report released on Tuesday, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) said a man, who suffers from mental illness, was taken from Tauranga Police Station to the court cells to await an appearance in February 2019.

The man became agitated and disruptive and attempted to leave his cell before the officer involved in this incident, along with his colleagues, picked him up and forced him back into the cell.  

A community magistrate remanded the man in custody, which meant he needed to be moved back to the police station but he refused and would not cooperate.

"After an attempt to persuade him to come voluntarily, the officer entered the cell with a taser pointed at the man," the IPCA report said. 

"Another police officer and three corrections officers also entered and tried to restrain the man."

The officer told the Authority he believed the man had hit and pushed away two of his colleagues and posed an imminent and serious threat to himself.  

"He says the man threatened to kill him, and he believed he was about to be assaulted.  He was extremely wary of the man's strength and speed," the report says. 

The officer told the Authority he fired his taser when the man lunged at him to defend himself and his colleagues.

"He activated the Taser twice more while the man was on the ground.  He believed the man was attempting to get up and was armed with a sharp Taser probe that could cause serious harm to himself and his colleagues who would handcuff the man," the report said. 

The report found there was a "fundamental contradiction" between the threat the officer and some of his colleagues say existed. 

"We cannot see any evidence of the officer's colleagues being punched or pushed, or the officer himself in a position of physical threat prior to any of the Taser discharges," the report said. 

"Despite what he now says, he simply cannot have perceived an imminent and serious threat at the time." 

The IPCA concluded the officer honestly believes his story but the Authority say he constructed his version of events to fit after they occurred and he now believes that is what happened. 

"This version has subsequently been reinforced through repeatedly watching the footage frame-by-frame in preparation for court.  In short, his recollection is unreliable, but not dishonest," the report said. 

Police said they self-reported the incident to the IPCA and carried out a criminal investigation. The officer was charged with three counts of assault with a weapon and stood trial in July last year but was acquitted by a jury.

Authority Chair Judge Colin Doherty said he acknowledges a jury acquitted the officer of criminal charges but the authority considered the evidence using a "different lens and employing a civil standard of proof". 

"The man did not pose a threat justifying the level of force used against him, and given the reality portrayed on the footage of this incident, the officer cannot have perceived that this was the case at the time,"  Doherty said.

"However, I accept he honestly believes a different construction of events."

Bay of Plenty District Commander Superintendent Tim Anderson said they accept the IPCA findings and their decision to charge the officer shows how seriously they treated the assault.

"Police now have an ongoing employment investigation in relation to this incident and the officer remains on restricted duties," Anderson said.