Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki was urged by police to tell his supporters to socially distance themselves at an anti-lockdown protest or he could face charges.
Text messages between Tamaki and Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha have been revealed under the Official Information Act, showing how efforts were made by police to keep a protest in Auckland on October 2 safe.
Up to 2000 protesters gathered at the Auckland War Memorial Museum that day to protest the Government's COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates. Signs held aloft talked about pro-choice and freedom from lockdown.
The Auckland region was under alert level 3 restrictions at the time, meaning the only gatherings allowed were weddings, funerals and tangihanga with no more than 10 people.
However, police at the time said they "recognise and respect people's lawful right to protest", and the text messages show how Haumaha organised a virtual meeting between himself, Tamaki and Police Commissioner Andrew Coster to try and keep the protest safe.
"I respect our relationship and your leadership and do appreciate the opportunity to talk through issues together," Haumaha wrote to Tamaki on September 23, in the lead-up to their virtual meeting.
After the meeting Haumaha wrote to Tamaki: "Kia Ora Bishop thank you that was a great korero and an opportunity for Andy to get to know you and the context behind what you are doing... Awesome anything you need just let me know."
Tamaki responded: "Yes i will thank you too Wally... i will keep in touch... thank you both..."
The documents released under OIA show Coster wrote to Tamaki on September 27, expressing concern about statements the church leader had made in the lead-up to the protest.
"As I noted in our discussion, I am concerned about the positioning of the protest up to date, in particular the use of the phrase, "Let's get arrested".
"You've indicated it's not your intention that people should be arrested but that they should be prepared to be arrested for what they believe in. We would ask that you clarify your public messaging on this point, i.e. be clear that you intend to run this event safely, and that you do not intend people to act in a way that leads to their arrest."
Tamaki wrote on social media at the time that he'd "agreed to cooperate" with the police and "make sure we are COVID responsible".
Coster warned Tamaki in his letter that he could face charges.
"The current Health Order requires that people do not leave their homes except for essential personal movement, which creates a risk to those attending this planned event. Police respects that protest is part of a free and well-functioning democracy.
"However, that must be weighed against the lawfulness and reasonableness of the protest activity. As we have indicated, gathering for a protest run other than in compliance with the law carries with it the risk of COVID transmission and may lead to enforcement action, including against yourself as an organiser."
The day before the protest, on October 1, Haumaha sent Tamaki a text message asking for his protest plan "so I can put it alongside our police operation team". He put the church leader in touch with Inspector Ivan Sarich.
The day the protest unfolded, Haumaha asked Tamaki to ensure the "museum isn't impacted".
He sent Tamaki a message from the museum: "Museum chief is not happy that motorbikes are congregating up by the cenotaph - We would be obliged if Mr Tamaki would move the bikes from the museum / cenotaph. We will block access there are plenty of other places to park the bikes."
Later that day, Haumaha urged the church leader to encourage his followers to socially distance themselves.
"Brian you need to tell the people to social distance otherwise they are in breach of the Health Order and the organisers become liable for the rally."
There was no response from Tamaki recorded that day. However, the following day he sent Haumaha a thank you note.
"Morena Wally, thank you for Police support yesterday. I thought it was a great day, nd Ivan a great guy."
The rest of the text message exchanges have been redacted.
Police kept a low profile on the edges of the protest on October 2. No arrests were made on the day, but Tamaki was later charged with attending and organising another protest in breach of alert level 3 restrictions.
Tamaki pleaded not guilty and was granted bail on the condition he didn't attend or organise any gathering in breach of the COVID-19 requirements. But days later, he attended another event at Auckland Domain and was charged with breaching his bail conditions.
He again pleaded not guilty and was given bail.