28 Jan 2020

Police should have abandoned pursuit after being rammed - IPCA

1:05 pm on 28 January 2020

The police watchdog has ruled officers should have abandoned a chase with a man who played chicken with a logging truck.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

In June 2018, police were called to Tolaga Bay Inn after reports a man, affiliated with Black Power, was suspected to be high on methamphetamine and thought to have weapons in his car. He was known to police.

When police arrived at the pub the man had gone and they planned to talk to him the next day, but at 11pm the man's ute passed a police car and it signalled for him to stop.

The chase continued up a forestry road, with the man ramming the police car and driving into the path of a logging truck, veering off at the last second.

A second police car joined the chase and police were rammed five times. Half an hour after the pursuit began, police were able to force the man's ute off the road and into a ditch.

The man took off into the forest. An officer followed him, shouting for him to stop, then drew his pistol and fired a warning shot into the ground.

A police dog handler spent two hours searching for the man, but was unable to find him. He was arrested in Gisborne the next day.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority found the police officer was justified in initiating the pursuit, but should have abandoned it when the car was rammed and the incident with the logging truck. It says they should also have called off the pursuit when the man was ramming their cars.

It also found the officer shouldn't have fired a warning shot, as no-one had seen the man with a firearm, he did not present an immediate danger to others, and he was running away.

Police say they accept the report's findings.

Tairawhiti Area Commander Inspector Sam Aberahama said officers wanted to do the right thing, but did not always make the right decisions in the heat of the moment.

"Our officers make decisions as quickly and safely as they can in the situations they are faced with. Their safety is of absolute importance.

However, in this instance I acknowledge that the officers should have made different decisions for their safety and the safety of the community."