21 Jan 2021

Taser and pepper spray during arrest found to be 'excessive use of force' - IPCA

11:47 am on 21 January 2021

The police watchdog has found officers who used a taser and put pepper spray between a man's eyes while arresting him was not justified.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

In May 2019 two relatively inexperienced officers were called to a house in Whangārei where two brothers were fighting and the mother could not stop them.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority said while trying to separate the men an officer was pushed and yelled at by one of them, prompting his arrest.

While the officer was trying to handcuff the man he tackled him and pushed the other officer out of the way before taking off down the driveway.

An officer then fired her taser at him, it missed, but the man stopped running.

The police then ordered the man to lay on the ground, while one officer encouraged the other to spray pepper spray between his eyes before handcuffing him.

"Officer B told us [the IPCA] that he was holding his pepper spray, and Officer A admitted that she said, "f**kin spray him". Officer B then pepper-sprayed Mr Z between the eyes, at close range."

The authority has found that both the use of the taser and the pepper spray were unjustified and constituted excessive use of force.

It said one of the officers also used unprofessional and inappropriate language during the arrest, and that an officer's encouragement of the other officer to use pepper spray was not necessary and totally inappropriate.

"Officer B acknowledged that he was "angry" and "fuming".

"He also used foul language, taunting Mr Z with "fucking tough c**t" as he lay on the ground.

"This was not only inappropriate, but also made it apparent to us, [the Authority], that Officer B used pepper spray, not because he did not have a less violent means available to effect the arrest, but because he was angry."

Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty said if the man had escaped, he posed a low risk and the taser was not necessary, neither was the use of pepper spray.

"Police could have made enquiries to locate him later.

"The officer's use of a taser to prevent the man's escape was therefore not proportional, and not justified under section 40 of the Crimes Act.

"It was apparent to us that the other officer's use of pepper spray was done out of anger, not out of necessity to effect the arrest."

Acting Northland District Commander Inspector Riki Whiu accepted the findings of the report.

He said it was a domestic situation where emotions were running high.

"While it is not acceptable that the man at the address assaulted police in the first instance, the actions of the officers in this incident fell short of the standards of professionalism, respect and integrity we expect from our staff."

The officers had apologised to the man.

"I am confident the officers involved have learned from this incident and will make better tactical decisions in future when dealing with volatile situations," Inspector Whiu said.