10 Oct 2019

Solider sentenced to 28 days military detention for assualt, including strangulation

7:01 pm on 10 October 2019

A soldier has been sentenced to 28 days in military detention and stripped of his rank for assault.

New Zealand Army soldiers inside an Australian Army vehicle during the mission rehearsal exercise for Task Group Taji 3 at RAAF Edinburgh, with about 300 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared for deployment to Iraq in exercise at RAAF Edinburgh in Adelaide, South Australia.

Photo: NZDF / Supplied

At a court martial in Burnham today, Lance Corporal (now ranked Private) Manu Taufa pleaded guilty to three charges of assault, including strangling another soldier in Tekapo in April 2016.

He will leave the army at the end of his sentence to become a rugby coach in China.

He also admitted injuring with reckless disregard for the safety of others, for kicking a soldier's back on 31 January 2016, in which the victim required surgery.

The judge Kevin Riordan and members of the military decided to reduce his sentence from a starting point of 60 days as it took three years for the case to reach the court, and due to an early guilty plea.

At the end of the trial Lance Corporal Taufa's rank was demoted to private.

In one of the incidents, at a field exercise in Tekapo between late March and early April 2016, Lance Corporal Taufa shoulder charged a trainee who didn't hear his instructions to peel right and then hit the soldier with the butt of a rifle.

In the strangulation incident in Tekapo, Lance Corporal Taufa confronted a soldier for an unauthorised discharge of a firearm, by grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the ground.

He then squeezed the soldier's neck for 10 seconds, disrupting his air passage.

It is not the first time Lance Corporal Taufa has faced disciplinary action.

In 2012, he was convicted for assault with an axe and demoted from Corporal to Lance Corporal.

In a victim impact statement, the soldier who was kicked in the back described the toll it took on him.

The soldier said he suffered permanent loss of feeling on his left leg following the incident.

He said as a result of the injuries he cannot be deployed overseas. The soldier also told the court of having aspirations to join the SAS, which he no longer has the clearance to do.

The soldier also spoke of the toll it took on his mental health and said he felt "mismanaged" by the New Zealand Defence Force following the incident.

"It seems that people in the NZDF were doing the opposite of what they say. I felt people were trying to manipulate me by getting information out of me. I have had to wait over three years to see end action.

"People don't know the extent of what I went through because I covered all my emotions with a smile," the soldier said.

He said he felt that he was looked at as if he "was the criminal" and the "scum of the army".

"And had continuous judgments of others saying "what a piece of sh*t" I was," the soldier said.

Judge Riordan also highlighted the time it took for the case to reach court martial, with the assaults happening in early 2016, labelling it "inexcusable".

Lance Corporal Taufa joined the Defence Force in 2001 and had previously served in Afghanistan and East Timor.

But he has been unable to serve overseas since 2008, due to an illness which affected his lungs.

Lance Corporal Taufa said he "whole heartedly apologised" for the assaults and accepted responsibility.

He said he was "devastated and ashamed of what his actions has caused" and apologised for the "shame it brought to his family".

In the sentencing, Judge Riordan said the court denounced the actions of Lance Corporal Taufa, and said the Defence Force's reputation had been damaged by the actions.