Former inspector repeatedly abused power - IPCA

7:18 pm on 14 November 2019

An officer unlawfully detained a teenager in 2015 and repeatedly abused his power while he was in the force, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.

Hurimoana Dennis pleaded not guilty to two charges of kidnap.

Hurimoana Dennis Photo: RNZ / Edward Gay

The authority has just released two reports revealing serious misconduct by Hurimoana Dennis before he retired as inspector from the force last year.

In 2015, Mr Dennis was asked by a 17-year-old male's whānau to help get the teenager to leave his underage girlfriend. Mr Dennis took the teen into a police cell, held him there and pressured him to leave his underage girlfriend and move to Australia.

The teenager agreed, but later returned to New Zealand. Mr Dennis arranged for airport officers to detain the teenager at Auckland Airport, and pressured him to return to Australia.

Mr Dennis defended his actions by saying he was acting in accordance with Māori lore and police's Māori-focussed crime prevention strategy, Te Huringa o Te Tai.

In 2017, a jury trial found Mr Dennis and fellow officer Vaughn Perry not guilty of charges surrounding the case.

Despite the acquittal, IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said Mr Dennis's actions were unlawful.

"Inspector Dennis' actions in attempting to force the teenager to comply with his family's wishes were an abuse of his influence, power and authority as a police inspector and were outside any police policy applicable at the time," he said.

"Neither Māori lore nor the Te Huringa o Te Tai strategy justifies the breach of [the teenager's] fundamental human rights to not be arbitrarily detained, to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure, and to freedom of movement."

The authority also found that police failed to properly investigate the actions of all the officers involved in detaining the teenager. The employment investigation processes were flawed and lacked transparency, leadership, and co-ordination.

It has recommended a series of changes to the way police undertake employment investigations and handle disciplinary procedures, including new guidelines and a clear process setting out who has responsibility for a particular case in terms of overall responsibility for its progress.

Repeated misuse of power

During the authority's investigation into the teen's case, it discovered that Mr Dennis had repeatedly misused his authority in other instances.

In 2014, Mr Dennis's son was arrested and charged with offences relating to an iPhone selling scam.

Mr Dennis approached those dealing with the case and explained that his son had got himself into some trouble, and encouraged them to give his son a diversion.

The authority has found that Mr Dennis used his authority and position within police to influence the outcome of the criminal prosecution of his son.

"Inspector Dennis acted improperly by involving himself in the investigation and prosecution processes of a matter in which he had a clear conflict of interest," the report states.

The report also found that in 2015, Mr Dennis used his authority and position within police to influence the sentencing outcome for a family member convicted of violence offence.

It said he breached police protocol by writing a character reference for his cousin, and including his police title, to deliberately try to influence the outcome in his relative's favour.

Between 2013 and 2015, the authority has identified numerous examples of excessive and inappropriate personal use of Mr Dennis's police email account.

In 2017, Mr Dennis was pulled over for speeding near Pukerua Bay, and he persisted to encourage the traffic officer to use his discretion and not issue him with a ticket.

The constable did issue an infringement notice in relation to the speeding matter and advised his line manager of the encounter.

"It is evident that Inspector Dennis has repeatedly used his authority and position within police to improperly pressure and influence police staff and others, and has circumvented proper processes to obtain more favourable outcomes for family members in the criminal justice system," Judge Doherty said.

"Inspector Dennis' actions, when considered together, amounted to serious misconduct."

Dennis 'not surprised' by response

But Mr Dennis stands by his actions.

"I think, with the families support, yes obviously I thought it was the right thing to do because what it meant was getting him out of a place of danger and stopping the mamae and the hara that was going on for him."

Mr Dennis said his role was misunderstood.

"It is disappointing, but I am not surprised that they have come up with that response," he said.

"They didn't really understand the role of an iwi liaison officer with the police, well the IPCA certainly didn't ask me what I did in the police.

"Two, I think this is two worldviews about how you manaaki and look after people."

During the authorities investigation, it discovered several other incidents where Mr Dennis misused his authority between 2013 and 2017.

He unsuccessfully tried to convince a traffic officer not to give him a speeding ticket.

He wrote a character reference for a relative who was up on violence charges and stipulated his position in the force to try to influence the outcome of the case.

Mr Dennis says his cousin was a good person who deserved support from his whānau, and that he would have had to stipulate his position had he have presented anything in court.

The authority also found that Mr Dennis asked another officer to get his son a diversion for a charge relating to an iPhone scam.

Mr Dennis said he believed the officer in charge was considering diversion anyway, and his son did not get preferential treatment as a result of his actions.

"From a kaupapa Māori perspective, you should get behind your whānau, I thought that was the right thing to do.

"The main thing is that my son was held to account, just like everybody else."

Mr Dennis has held a leading role with Te Puea Marae in Auckland, and said he has helped hundreds of people out of homelessness.

He insists that he's a good cop and said he's always acted in accordance with Māori lore and tikanga.

"Not everything is in alphabetical order when it comes to the role of an iwi liaison office, but I am proud of what I have done.

"I don't want these incidences to define me, 32 years worth of commitment and services to my community and to my people - I think it is a bit unfair."

Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Andy Coster said police acted quickly and were right to lay charges against Mr Dennis and officer Vaughn Perry, who was also charged in relation to the 2015 incident.

"It is disappointing for the organisation to have a situation that went so badly wrong," he said.

But he rejected Mr Dennis's defence, that he was acting in accordance to Māori lore.

"Those activities have to occur within the boundaries of the law, and within the boundaries of our values.

"The complainant in this case was a young Māori man and it was clear that these events in no way helped him, in fact they were very damaging so we would beg to differ on the perspective that this was somehow legitimate under the banner of tikanga Māori."

The authority also found that police failed to properly investigate the actions of all the officers involved in detaining the teenager. The employment investigation processes were flawed and lacked transparency, leadership and co-ordination.

Mr Coster said it is clear that when dealing with cases involving a large number of officers, that more coordination is needed.

"In no way are we comfortable with the events that are disclosed within the reports. We consider them to be isolated and we acknowledge that there is opportunity for police to improve our handling of disciplinary matters such as these."

The Police Association was not available for comment.

But in a statement, president Chris Cahill said the report speaks for itself and there are takeaways from it.

"The key lesson from these reports is the importance for all officers to identify and alert relevant people to any real or perceived conflicts of interest," he said.

"If that had been done at many stages during the variety of issues in these reports, different decisions are likely to have been made and different outcomes are likely to have eventuated."