17 Oct 2013

IPCA finds police acted unlawfully at party

9:43 pm on 17 October 2013

Police are defending their actions during a party where a young man had his neck broken seemingly by an officer's baton.

However, they concede their conduct was unlawful and have accepted the findings of the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) that has been highly critical of their actions and their subsequent investigation.

Jakob Christie.

Jakob Christie. Photo: RNZ

In 2009, police closed down a party in the Wellington suburb of Khandallah. During the incident, Jakob Christie, who is now 23, had his neck broken. Other guests were forced out of the house and into the road.

In a report on the incident, the IPCA says police acted illegally in entering the property and expelling its occupants. It ruled that members of the police Tactical Policing Unit who shut down the party used unnecessary, excessive force.

The authority says the identity of the officer who struck the blow that broke Mr Christie's neck could not be established, but on the balance of probability, his injury was caused by a police baton.

Judge Sir David Carruthers.

Judge Sir David Carruthers. Photo: RNZ

An internal police inquiry cleared officers in December 2012 of wrongdoing, but IPCA chairperson Sir David Carruthers rebutted that finding on Thursday.

"Although some of the force used by police may have been used in self-defence and was therefore justified, other force was for the purposes of unlawfully removing party-goers from the house and was therefore unjustified."

The IPCA recommends better practises for dealing with parties, and notes that it and the police are working on these.

Jakob Christie says his injury did not cause paralysis but still causes him problems.

"On very, very cold days my back gets quite sore. It's not as good as it was before it happened. It's kind of ruined my confidence, in a lot of aspects. Before this happened, I was an outgoing person and now I'm quite withdrawn and don't really like crowds and public."

Mr Christie and his lawyer say they will be seeking compensation, but do not yet know how much.

Difficult situation, say police

Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls.

Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls. Photo: RNZ

Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls told reporters on Thursday he accepts that police acted unlawfully in closing the party and accepts the possibility that Jakob Christie's injuries were caused by a police baton.

Mr Nicholls says police went to the party after a 111 call from a woman there, and after complaints from neighbours. He said it was difficult for officers to handle.

"They were dealing with about three pieces of legislation: one was the Resource Management Act, the other was the Summary Offences Act, the other was the Crimes Act. And they had to consider three provisions - breach of the peace and power of arrest and power of entry.

"So the sergeant on the night had a few minutes to make quite a complex analysis in a challenging environment."

Police say officers deal with 6500 noise complaints every year, and most parties are dealt with without a problem.