IPCA finds six cases where police officers used excessive force during Parliament protest

The police watchdog has found there were six cases in which police officers used excessive force during the anti-vaccination mandate protest outside Parliament in 2022. 

These include one case where a male officer pressed down on a woman's head. The woman had removed all her clothes except for her underwear and had rubbed coconut oil over her body.

Another example was of an officer spraying a fire extinguisher at protesters for over 30 seconds.

It comes after the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) released "The Review: Policing of the Protest and Occupation at Parliament 2022" report in April that outlined 1905 complaints received relating to the protest.  

Of those, the IPCA determined that 21 complaints required either a specific investigation or further enquiries to determine what further action should be taken.  

The police watchdog has now released a summary of findings on each complaint on Thursday morning.

In the report, the IPCA said it found six cases where police officers used excessive force. Two of these occurred on February 10, two on February 21-23 and two on March 2.   

Incident 1

The first incident occurred on February 10, which was the day Police first tried to clear Parliament grounds. 

There were six incidents relating to police use of force on protesters. In three of the six matters, the IPCA found the police use of force was justified, in two cases, the police watchdog ruled the use of force was excessive and in one case it couldn't make a finding.  

The first complaint that the IPCA said officers used excessive force was to do with a woman who said police unlawfully arrested her husband, who was peacefully protesting.  

The IPCA said the woman's husband was sitting on the corner of a low wall on Parliament grounds when he was approached by an officer and arrested. The husband had heard trespass warnings being broadcast, but "erroneously" believed they did not apply to him as he was not on the lawned area. 

Footage showed the officer move in and place his left hand on the man's left upper arm while arresting him.  

"The officer then grasped the man around the back of his neck using his right hand, then also brought his left hand to the same location and pulled the man. The man had his hands down by his sides. The officer pulled the man to the ground. The man landed on the paving stones face downwards," the IPCA said.  

The IPCA concluded the man did not use any physical force to resist arrest and the officer was not lawfully entitled to use the force that he did.

Incident 2

The second incident had to do with a male officer's use of force on three individuals during their arrests on February 10. 

In two of the cases, the arrested men had been taken to the ground, lying prone on their stomachs and restrained by a number of officers.  

"An officer who was not part of the arrest teams, then came to assist and restrained the men's heads by taking a wide stance and pressing down on the head in a press-up position, for approximately 10 seconds," the report said.  

The third case was of a woman who had taken her clothes except for her underwear and had rubbed coconut oil over her body to make it more difficult for Police to grip her. 

The woman was arrested by two officers and wasn't actively resisting arrest when the male officer came to assist. He pressed down on her head in a "press up position".

The IPCA ruled the officer's use of force by pressing down on their heads in the first two cases was unnecessary and excessive. In the third case, involving the woman, the watchdog said the officer's use of force by kneeling on the woman's shoulder/neck/head was unnecessary and excessive.

Incident 3

The IPCA investigated three incidents that occurred on February 21-23. In two cases, the police watchdog found the force used on people was excessive.   

The third case had to do with police actions concerning a family driving a van and the IPCA found those actions were reasonable, including smashing one of the van's windows.  

The first complaint where officers had used excessive force was to do with a woman who said an officer punched her with three short jabs to the right eye for no reason on February 21. 

The IPCA reported the officer felt a hand reach inside his body armour around his left chest area and immediately reacted to that threat to defend himself. 

The officer said he struck out with a closed left fist into the woman's face. The woman did not remove her hand, so the male officer struck out a second time resulting in the woman removing her hand, according to the officer. 

The IPCA said it was satisfied that the officer genuinely believed there was a hand inside his body armour and ruled in those circumstances the officer was justified in using some force to address the threat he believed he faced. 

The IPCA ruled the officer was entitled to use force to defend himself in the circumstances he described but said striking the woman in the face was not reasonable as he could have struck down on her arm to remove her hand from underneath his body armour.

Incident 4

A man complained an officer punched him in the head several times, gouged his eye leaving him with facial injuries that required medical attention and that the officer stole his phone on February 22. 

The IPCA looked into three cases relating to this complaint and ruled in two of the cases the use of force was unlawful. The third case, where the officer punched the man in the stomach region was in self-defence, reasonable and proportionate. 

The IPCA also ruled there was no evidence that the officer stole the man's phone.

Incident 5

On March 2, there were 10 complaints, which was the day police undertook a large-scale operation involving about 600 police officers to clear protesters, vehicles, and structures from the protest site.  

Eight of these had to do with police use of force on protesters. The IPCA found in two of the cases, police use of force was excessive but the police watchdog noted in five of the eight cases, police use of force was justified and in one case it couldn't make a finding.   

"One case related to the impoundment of and damage to a vehicle, and the other case concerned the arrest of a young person who was heading home and not involved in events," the IPCA said.   

The first complaint on March 2 from which the IPCA said police used excessive force was of a woman who complained a police officer slapped her mobile phone out of her hand, stomped on it and kicked it to the curb. As she tried to pick up the phone, the officer shoved her to the curb and hit her with a shield repeatedly. 

The IPCA ruled there was no justification for officers to knock the phone from the woman's hand or push her to the ground and said these actions amounted to excessive use of force and were unlawful.  

Incident 6

A man complained he was standing on top of a concrete pillar/column beside the main gates at Parliament, broadcasting live footage of events occurring through Facebook, when police officers directed a fire extinguisher at him and two others for over 30 seconds. This left him unable to see or breathe for a short period. 

The IPCA ruled the officer's initial use of the fire extinguisher for a short period was in self-defence and justified but officers were not justified in further spraying three protesters after they had turned their backs and were trying to climb down from the column.

'Incredibly proud' - Police 

Police said it acknowledged the findings of the IPCA to do with the complaints received from the Parliament protest.  

Deputy Commissioner Jevon McSkimming said hundreds of officers were deployed across the duration of the protest and he was "incredibly proud" of the work they did. 

"They were faced with a level of violence and vitriol that we have never before experienced in New Zealand," McSkimming said.  

"Despite the provocation and violent behaviour exhibited by some protesters over the duration of this event, the overwhelming majority of our officers did an exemplary job.   

He added there was a "very small number of incidents" where police didn't get it right. 

"Where that occurred, we have acknowledged that and, where appropriate, taken steps to address it," McSkimming said.  

Police Minister Mark Mitchell told Newshub the report is a matter between Police and the IPCA, however, he added that officers were "world class" in how they handled the protest.

"What I will say is that my observations on the protest outside Parliament and how frontline police managed that, was they were courageous and showed they were a world class Police service in their operation, especially when violence was being used against them," Mitchell said.